Declines, denial and disconnect: Victorian reptiles in a time of mass extinction

On a wet and wild Saturday June 16th, a hardy group of people gathered at the Mural room, at parks office Halls Gap, for a passionate and informative talk given by Nick Clemann.

To the editor’s delight, two attendees Bill Gardner and David Steane sent reports from the talk, which I have combined. Many thanks to both of you. An example for others to follow!


Nick works on threatened species of fauna, in particular reptiles and frogs. He also does honorary work at the museum of Victoria, the zoo and university.

We are in the middle of the 6t h extinction period because of the emerging catastrophe of the Anthropocene (age of man). Prior to this the most recent mass extinction event occurred in the Cretaceous when the dinosaurs were lost due to collision with a large meteor. Factors leading to the current rapid rate of species disappearance include:

  1. Climate change
  2. Habitat destruction from introduced herbivores such as horses, deer and pigs. Horses are particularly destructive of alpine streams and wetlands, causing the direct reduction in numbers of frogs and wetland dependent reptiles,
  3. Pollution
  4. Over fishing/hunting
  5. Invasive species
  6. Overpopulation of one species…man (this is rarely mentioned in polite society!)

The current rate of extinction of other species is more than 1000 times the background rate.

Survey work done by Bandow’s expedition in 1856-7 was used to provide a base line point to document extinctions. While most people are aware of large, warm blooded cuddly animals which have disappeared e.g. various mammals, and particularly thylacines, few realise that the attrition in reptiles (29 taxa/120 recorded) and frogs (12 taxa /37) is far greater, just based on these records alone.

            Other species are at risk, for example the striped legless lizard which has lost 95% of its habitat. Conservation and species rescue however is a popularity contest for funding and few people like frogs and reptiles. Only one frog has been funded for study in Victoria, the BawBaw frog. A fungal disease of frogs (Chytridiomycosis) which has multiple strains, is causing rapid extinction across many (most) species.

Solutions?

Habitat retention….should be major goal…destruction continues even when habitat is near to zero

One problem is that developers can argue to undertake mitigation of habitat loss by the use of off sets (ie creating or preservation of new habitat elsewhere). But if there is no more habitat, this is an illogicality. Relocation is not the answer as typically it fails! Translocation has a last ditch role in conservation but cannot be used as a justification for habitat destruction.

            Translocation is not a simple process. In the case of frog disease, captive husbandry and release of tadpoles or adults is possible. There is scope to experiment in captivity eg select for disease resistance. There are many variables which influence the outcome of any attempt to reintroduce a species (eg water quality can sometimes be antifungal, typically a bit salty…has a bad impact on frogs, but an even worse effect on the disease)

Some good news

   A current project studying the venom bank of snakes has found geographic and temporal variation in venom strength; ontogenetic variation in young vs adult. The use for medicinal purposes may drive the funding for more work into awareness of snake species and lead to action preserving their numbers i.e. use /practical benefit to be seen to the public. The old story…a species only has worth if it is of benefit to mankind…but that is the reality of the funding situation.


After Nick’s talk, a dozen or so people went to Halls Gap hotel, for a well-deserved meal and drinks. Thanks Nick for a great talk.

Talks By Members – 24 February 2018

We started the year with two presentations by our own members, followed by a  picnic tea/ BBQ (bring your own)  in Halls Gap afterwards.


            The first was presented by Ben Gunn, an archaeologist residing at Lake Lonsdale. Ben recently gained a Ph D for his work. Over the years Ben has spoken to FOGGS about local art sites, and we knew he was also doing much work in the north of the country so we were very much interested in hearing about what he had learnt.

Art of the Ancestors: Analysing ceiling art of Nawarla Gabarnmang in Arnhem Land”

Ben’s thesis was about the development of a new way of recording and analysing rock art by incorporating three techniques: DStretch from rock art, Harris Matrix from archaeology and the Morellian Method from fine art. Using the ceiling art from Nawarla Gabarnmang in western Arnhem Land he was able to show that at least 113 layers of painting have decorated this ceiling. These layers were aggregated into seven assemblages, based on stylistic and sequential similarities. On the basis of other archaeological and environmental evidence the each assemblage was then allocated an age. The chronology showed that there was a major change in pigment colour preference around 500 years ago: from red to white. The reason for this change is still being investigated.

Ben then briefly showed how this method can be applied to the rock art in Grampians-Gariwerd, placing the very first petroglyph found here (which was really exciting) within the Gariwerd sequence:

  • Most Recent:
    White Paintings
    A single petroglyph
    Red Paintings
  • Earliest Art:
    Red stencils

In the next few years Ben hopes to expand this study and re-evaluate the whole Gariwerd sequence (and hopefully tie it into some dates).


The second presentation was by Bill Gardner who lives at Laharum in the Northern Grampians. Bill is a newer member of FOGGS and gained his Ph D in 1981 studying  

The soil/root interface of Lupinus albus”

What relevance does that have for the Grampians? you might ask.  Well read on.

 Bill  studied for his PhD from 1978-81 at Melbourne University, examining the soil/root interface of white lupins.  The initial aim was to see if some kind of mycorrhizal (beneficial fungi helping plants take up nutrients) interaction was occurring in farm rotations, but the absence of any mycorrhizae on the lupins sent him off into unchartered territory. He discovered white lupins produce root clusters (sometimes called proteoid roots in the Proteacea, or dauciform roots in rushes) and used various chemical secretions to cause parts of the soil, in particular iron, aluminium and manganese, to dissolve, thereby obtaining nutrients locked away from other plants. Some plants species with similar adaptations have quite extra-ordinary amounts of manganese or aluminium in their above ground parts, indicating a terra forming ability on the soil. In recent years, Bill has been looking at chemical scalds near Balmoral caused by groundwater containing iron and sulphur interacting at the surface in a similar fashion to acid mine drainage, albeit on a smaller scale. Soil pores become blocked with iron oxides, causing the watertable to rise. A technique involving rushes and other root cluster forming species is showing promise by dissolving the iron oxide thereby increasing discharge and restoring water balance in the landscape.

The picture below shows roots of white lupins growing in an agar slant containing black insoluble manganese dioxide, which has been chemically altered and dissolved around the root clusters.


Both talks gave rise to many questions which both speakers generously helping us understand the implications for our area.

March 26: Bunbury, Bunyips, and Bunjil: the family letters of Capt Richard Hanmer Bunbury of Barton Station

Professor Ian D. Clark, Federation Business School, Federation University Australia, Ballarat

Professor Ian Clark, a Western Victorian local now at Federation University Ballarat, gave us a fact-filled afternoon talk on the 1840 accounts of Capt. R. H. Bunbury of Barton Station, south of Moyston; the origins of the Bunyip as recorded by early settlers in conversation with local Aboriginal people and from Aboriginal ground drawings in Western Victoria. The Bunyip also was a key player in the story of Bunjil and in the interpretation of the painting of Bunjil in the Black Range near Stawell. Bunyips have been recorded from most areas of Victoria, and while all are associated with waterholes or rivers, the descriptions vary considerably: from a giant emu to a fur seal to an extinct Palorchestes (that died out some 40,000 years ago). The best description, however, comes not from verbal accounts but from a depiction cut into the soil by Djab Wurrung people at Challicum near Ararat. This seal- or bird-like image was recorded by artists in 1851 and again in 1867. Whether the bunyip was a real or mythical creature, or a relic of a now-extinct animal, remains speculative, but certainly the stories surrounding it point to “the ‘deep history’ we have inherited from Australia’s first peoples”.

For those who wish to learn more, Ian has permitted his papers to be placed on the FOGG website

 or they can be referenced as:

  • Clark, I.D. 2017 Bunyip, Bunjil and mother-in-law avoidance: new insights into the interpretation of Bunjils shelter, Victoria, Australia. Rock Art Research 34(2):189-192.
  • Clark, I.D. 2018 A fascination with Bunyips: Bunbury, La Trobe, Wathen, and the Djab Wurrung people of Western Victoria. Journal of the C J La Trobe Society 17(1):27-39.

Thank you Ian.

Dr Ian D. Clark has been researching and publishing in Victorian Aboriginal history since 1982, and has been the Centre Manager of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Halls Gap, and Research Fellow in History at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.

His book ‘We Are All of One Blood: A History of the Djabwurrung Aboriginal People of Western Victoria, 1836-1901’ was awarded the Local History Project Award in the Victorian Community History Awards 2016. Other areas of interest include the history of tourism, place names, and the music and life of Ella Jane Fitzgerald.

After Ian’s talk we invited him to join with us for dinner at the HG pub and discussion on various issues was lively.

March Committee Meeting Report – 13 April 2018

New curtains in the Mural Room have been put up following our suggestion

Rodney has purchased an EPirb

Bill and Rodney attended the fire conference on 18.10.17.

Volunteer Parks Training Day: Rodney and Margo attended. Following up from this Rodney has established a FOGGS page in the Parks portal and will maintain it. (Activities and possibility profiles of members) see further article.

Treasurer’s Report:  Discussion re members who have not renewed,  decided to leave as it is now close to the call for annual subs in July.

General Business: The seat on Zumsteins to Fish Falls track is in progress, Rodney to follow up as to when it is expected to be completed. The funding for this originally came from the Friends of Zumsteins group.

Activities were discussed  and this quarters confirmed. It was suggested that we hold some activities on Sundays.

 Golton Gorge   FOGGs agree to help with works when they take place

 August  &  September  Yet to be confirmed We hope more indigenous heritage learning (AGM also due.)

Summer activity : Picnic and walk on Mt William, maybe November?

Mike Stevens’ Talk – April 13

When we had asked Mike to update us on environmental issues in the park, particularly on the overgrazing issue, he was not yet acting as Ranger in Charge, so in the end we got some of each.

Sallow wattle: The aim is to control as much as possible, using a mix of handpulling and mechanical mulching. We really have to do as much as we can as it potentially could cause huge problems. In Wilsons Promontory a weed teatree has spread and spread. We asked about the sallow wattle monitoring that some of us had volunteered to do while Ryan was in the position. Mike was not very familiar with it and asked each of us to collate what we had done so far and show him, so he could see what use could be made of it.

Predators: We have both foxes and cats. Fox baiting has been going on for over 20 years now and is working to some extent to keep the numbers down, but the cameras show that cat numbers are now very high. It is at last recognised that cats should be dealt with but it will be probably over a year before cat baiting can start. Mike hopes that then we can follow the lead of SA where aerial baiting in winter has been very effective.

Fire : The fires of the last 12 years have had a massive impact on the Park and work is needed to recreate a diversity in age groups. Mike would like to see more winter burning, and more small patch burning, but this requires hard work.

Water Management: The wetland areas need better management. Some experimental work was done to improve Bryan Swamp, but the management of water needs more thought and negotiation.

Herbivores:  We have both deer and goats. We have rabbits and hares too but they are a lesser problem. We have recently received funding for large scale shooting of both deer and goats.

Goats: To eradicate them is going to be impossible, but if we could reduce the numbers by 35% each year, the numbers would remain stable or decline. But the current shooting programme is only achieving 16%. The extra funding will of course help, but that requires constant monitoring feedback to convince the money holders to continue.

Deer. A real concern and we are trying different methods of control, using licensed shooters. The shooters are able to take the meat but not the antlers. But again at this stage it is impossible to eradicate them so we are concentrating on the areas where they are doing the most damage, such as in the areas in the north recovering from the 2014 fires. Plus work with neighbouring landholders is underway.

What to do about the over abundant macropods? This is a real dilemma. The exclusion plots that were set up at Cooinda Burrong (and which FOGGS used to monitor) and another site nearby clearly demonstrated that the damage was not being done by rabbits, but by large animals. However there was no way of distinguishing between deer and macropods. Other research is indicating that on the fringes of the park the culprits are both deer and kangaroos, further inside it is swamp wallabies and deer in different habitats. (Interestingly swamp wallabies only arrived in the Grampians in the 1970s and numbers are steadily increasing). But getting approval, let alone funding, for macropod reduction is going to be a real battle. So the strategy is to go all out against deer and goats for the next five years, while educating and arguing for macropod work as well; then hopefully we will be able to address the macropod issue.


Partnerships are the key to getting better information and particularly the Deakin Uni partnership has been great. But funding remains a real problem, the park has to contribute to the uni costs.

Mike also gave us a bit of a general update, some of which was very similar to what I had heard at the Advisory Group meeting and have reported elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here. We then had a chance to ask questions. Mike confirmed that the lack of regeneration of banksias on the red gum walk was likely to be deer predation. Other questions were on Golton Gorge work and the Peaks Trail.

We also reminded Mike that we are very happy to support any research done by students, that we have funds that could be used for travel costs etc.

We then let Mike go and join his family for dinner while we also adjourned to the pub for a meal together.

Advisory Group Report

The Advisory Group met on March 16 with Mike Stevens (Team Leader, Environment and Heritage)  as acting Ranger in Charge as Dave R is on secondment to the North East part of the state. We had two main topics to discuss with three visitors from Melbourne, plus of course a list of local ongoing issues.

Our first visitors were Tony Varcoe (Community Engagement and Inclusion) and Young Soo Kwon, an exchange ranger from South Korea who were  both interested to observe how an AG works as ours is one of the very few parks to have one. We introduced ourselves, the history of the AG and our own backgrounds and they then listened in as we discussed:

Community partnerships. There are 17 of these groups and the park benefits hugely eg the partnership with Deakin University costs $5000 but delivers $100,000 worth of projects.

Grampians Peaks Trail Progress:  Some delays being experienced, with the cultural heritage work needing to be done on new tracks, good stone work continuing on tracks that are being upgraded. To learn more about the Grampians Peaks Trail visit www.grampianspeakstrail.com.au.

Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby colony: We are awaiting a decision from DELWP as to what should be done with the group. Mike has sent them a letter with the suggestions we had agreed to at a previous meeting.

Zumsteins cottages: Waiting on some rain to complete landscaping and interpretation work.

Camping in the Mt Stapylton area and the changing profile of park visitors, especially rock climbers: This needs careful thought and planning, and the current management plan is out of date here (and elsewhere).

Park Connect: We were encouraged to register on it and publicise it (see separate article).

Golton Gorge work: Once the cultural heritage work has been completed work will start on making a new track there to replace the one destroyed in the 2014 fires. One side of the creek only, and most of the work being done by volunteers (again, see separate article).


A brief break and then Mike and Tina Konstantinidis the corporate environmental planning partner led us through the draft Grampians – Gariwerd Conservation Action Plan which we’d all received a few days earlier (all 122 pages of it).

A draft summary will be available soon, so I won’t go into details, but we looked at the current health status of the different environmental communities within the park, and where it is realistic to expect them to be in 10 years’ time with good management (e.g. heathlands, grasslands, alpine ….). And the threats these different areas are facing. Herbivores, both native and introduced, and in some areas the native ones (e.g. swamp wallabies) are the main culprits. Weeds, rabbits, hares, cats and foxes, fire, water harvesting …. We discussed these at the meeting and then continued to email further comments over the next week or two. Tina replied at the end that “We don’t usually have the opportunity to meet with an advisory group to discuss CAPs so this has been a great exercise in getting some perspective outside of government agency colleagues.”

Mike anticipates hardcopies of the plan will be available around June and will send out a link to an online version once available.

Advisory Group Meeting

The AG has met twice since our last newsletter. I missed the meeting at Mckenzie Falls and Zumsteins, but was able to attend the December meeting. (Quick summary: the green (middle) Zumsteins cottage will be well restored, with the western (blue) cottage partially demolished and managed as a ruin. The eastern (orange) cottage has had a protective, replica roof installed. The next state election may have some focus on McKenzie Falls options, particularly the carparking area.)

In December Mike caught us up to date with the dilemmas surrounding what to do with the Brush Tail rock wallabies, particularly in view of the fact that the male is about to begin breeding with his own daughters. DELWP have commissioned a review by Dr Graeme Coulson to be completed in April. The AG preferred option was rather than intervening by removing the older male and disrupting the existing colony, investigate introducing another small family group as a satellite population, with a different male, a reasonable distance away from the current group, and then over time individuals will meet. The AG was concerned that the future of the Moora Moora release site remains uncertain until the review is completed.

Mike also updated us on testing six different sallow wattle treatments, from handpulling, whippersnipping, machine mulching, and chemical spraying. The research results indicate hand pulling as the most environmentally sensitive but the highest cost as it requires repeated treatments in subsequent years, whereas chemical spraying was the lowest cost but highest environmental impact to non-target flora species. The best outcome appears to be mechanical mulching. Although it has a higher up-front costs, it appears to have lasting effects at reducing sallow wattle with minimal off-target impacts to desirable native vegetation

We also had updates on the Peaks trail. So far the onground work is still focused on upgrading existing tracks while cultural heritage and vegetation removal issues and permits for new construction are very slow. But what has been built is of very high quality.

Feral cats was another topic we discussed. However the same afternoon we learnt that there was the good news Mike has already written about, so we took no action after all.

Annual General Meeting

We were lucky to have nice weather for our AGM on Saturday 16th September.

Thirteen members attended and we covered all the usual business, the president gave his report and it is covered elsewhere in this bulletin.

Our committee for the next twelve months was elected and is:

  • President – Rodney Thompson
  • Vice President – Leigh Douglas
  • Secretary – jointly Bill and Judy Gardner
  • Treasurer – Judith Thompson
  • Committee Members:
    • David Steane
    • Mabel Brouwer
    • Charles Kerr
    • Wendy Bedggood
  • Newsletter Editor – Margo Sietsm

Activities for the coming year were discussed and the new committee will work towards organising many of the good suggestions.

We had lunch then went for a walk to Fish Falls, along the way we checked out some potential spots to install a seat. Some time ago it was decided to have a seat installed along the walk to recognise the Friends of Zumsteins who folded some years ago but passed their remaining finances to FOGGs. Having decided on a couple of suitable spots these have been given to Parks and the process of getting a seat installed can now happen.

We had hoped to see more wild flowers on our walk but this cold weather has made them late, although the sunny day and splashes of yellow from the wattle made us all feel like spring has arrived.

Reports From Our Reps On Committees

ADVISORY GROUP

Nothing to report this time as we have not met since the last newsletter. There’s one due soon but I won’t be able to make it and will have to rely on the minutes.

ROUND TABLE

Nothing to report this time as well. The scheduled July meeting was cancelled and not rescheduled.

If there is any member who would be interested in attending these meetings as the FOGGs rep could they please let Rodney or Wendy know as we feel it would be good to keep our presence at these meetings. There are only 2 to 3 a year as well as the annual fire conference.

This year’s ‘Fire conference’ is being held at the Laharum Sports Club at 10 am Wednesday 18th October. The day usually runs till around 3 pm with a catered lunch. For further information and to RSVP contact Danielle Leehane at   Any FOGG member interested in attending this day should contact Danielle direct.

Meeting with Park Management – 26th May

For our annual catchup with Dave Roberts, we had 12 members sitting around the board table at the Parks office in Halls Gap. As usual there were many topics, and lots of information covered. I’ll try and condense it down to a shortish report.

Dave began by giving us a summary of important numbers for our park:

1.3 million visits last year, of which 500,000 visited McKenzie Falls, the most visited site in the park. 40,000 children involved in school camps and educational activities come through the park. This makes the Grampians the third most visited park in Victoria. We are beaten by the 12 apostles, with 3.8 million, and Great Otway NP is the second most visited.

There have been 30,740 volunteer hours spent in the park on a wide variety of projects. (This is the equivalent of 18 additional full time staff!) This figure may well drop with Caitlyn O’Reilly’s position probably ending on June 30th, due to lack of funding. I just can’t see how volunteer work can be run so effectively without our dedicated volunteer coordinator. The trail rider and Sherpa programs may well be at risk without her role.

Tourism in the Park contributes $475 Million of the $20.6 Billion to the Victorian economy. From $140 Million in assets. And yet less than 8% of Victorian tourism recognise the Grampians as a location.

There are many licensed tourism businesses operating within the park. 395 to be precise, covering everything from bus tours, guided walks, birdwatching, fourwheel driving to action sports like canoeing, cycling and rock climbing.

We have the largest concentration of Aboriginal cultural and art sites in Victoria, with 88% of all known  sites within the Grampians region, including one of the oldest, confirmed at 22,000 years old.

There are so many more details, but it would take all day to list them. In short, ours is a very important piece if countryside for Parks Victoria, the state and the nation.

We then moved on to staffing matters. Ryan has gone to NSW to do species reintroduction, something he enjoyed while working on the Rock Wallaby project  here. But as compensation Mike Stevens has returned to replace him. Mike is a small mammals expert. Monitoring programs and Grampians Ark project were originally driven by his push and we are lucky to have him back. His most recent project has been designing and implementing the Feral grazing animal control project. 12 months funded herbivore control program for deer and goats

The Judas goat program has been working well, with 12 goats in one shift last week. However the Deer program is slower progress, with 7 shooters, seven zones resulting in a total of 12 deer. Private property permissions and operations adjacent to the park may be more effective. This does seem important to get right with the park now containing 3 or even 4 species of deer, perhaps due to recent illegal releases by deer hunting enthusiasts within the park.

We came then to the topic of fire. A senior staff member has been here 35 years, this is only the second year he hasn’t attended a fire in the park! This has been great to see, as there has been a lot less environmental and asset destruction than in many years prior.

No controlled burning took place Easter weekend, which has traditionally been a big part of the fire program. They were not too stressed that the wet came in early, previous fire history means there hasn’t been as much need to burn. There is no longer an area based program. More risk focussed planning will become the standard.

The Peaks trail is still a major work underway with September 30th 2019  the  projected end date for works. The planning is quite an arduous process. 8 different planning approvals to be gained for each stage. Cultural approval, Fire safety,  Emergency management, Local Government, Native Title process, and finally biodiversity/environmental management for all 3 levels of government!

The planning framework is the same as for a high rise in the city, even for a bush campsite!

Any vegetation removal has to be offset by buying other vegetation. This cannot be done for this length of track, 100 km of new trail, so planning has to come up with another proposal, such as the purchase of private land adjacent, or  maybe closed trails could contribute to offset. The North South runway of Victoria valley air strip will be decommissioned soon, as it is no longer used. This will be a major contribution to the offset. Unfortunately we are the first park to go through this process under current rules, so it is trial and error procedure.

11 campsites are yet to be built. With environmental offsets adhered to.

There is still no extra money to maintain new facilities and sites. A pity considering the use the trail may be getting after completion. The first 12 months Bugiga campsite saw 1300 walkers, generating $20,000 revenue that goes to central revenue, Victorian parks are not allowed to retain revenue, so it goes to Central and is redistributed, not necessarily back to maintain the facilities that earn it. $17,000 was expended to maintain the campsite, toilets etc from the park budget.

This would indicate the State invested in trail not for Parks Victoria’s sake but their own.

We also discussed the fox and feral cat control programs. 100 cameras in park are recording 3 cats for every fox seen. It would appear they are a bigger problem, but harder and more expensive to set up control programs due to the fact that cats (even feral, marsupial hunting monsters) are a domestic animal. They must be taken alive to a vet for microchip check, and given the green dream needle, at the park’s cost.

The recently adopted single use Candid injectors for 1080 are being employed on fox control. They are well designed and set up so that only a large animal can be dosed. There are 40 in use, but Ravens have been eating lure meat and rendering them useless! Cagy foxes eating lure from side. The design ensures that only an animal of a certain size, pulling upwards on the bait with 5kg of force will set off a spring that launches a 1080 pellet into the mouth of the animal. This prevents other species from being effected, and those dosed get a strong dose  and are killed rapidly. The biggest issue is they are single use and need to be reset after each firing. There is a multi dose bait injector in use in U.S. Hopefully after going through the process it will be approved here soon.

At this point we decided Dave had been in the interrogation chair long enough, and sent him home to his family, and the rest of us adjourned to an evening meal together to continue talking.

Yes I know, its not that short!

Cheers.
Rod