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

Advisory Group /Round Table Meeting – April 19

Neither Wendy or I, the usual reps from FOGGS, were able to be present but Ben Gunn and David Steane were able to take our places.

These are the official minutes, I’m sure Ben or David will be happy to fill you in.



Ecological Asset Discussion – David Roberts

Fire Ecology Strategy 2011/2012

What are the assets in the Grampians National Park?

  • Water Storage
  • Tourism visitation/economic
  • Cultural Heritage – European inc Pre Settlement, National Heritage Register, Aboriginal
  • Biodiversity – Threatened Species & communities, Diversity – flora, fauna, species, Iconic Species – Western Grey, Brush tail Rock Wallaby, small mammals etc.
  • Apiary Assets, species diversity, timing
  • Comments

Need to manage the park for its complexity and diversity – No single species driving the burn program in the Grampians National Park (GNP), not single purpose management

Protection/treatment/management of non-native species including, setting priorities & competing priorities. (Fellow & Red Deer, Fox, Cat, Sallow Wattle, goats)

Small Mammals and their response to Fire – John White

Note – Danielle will circulate the presentation

  • 10 year project, one of the very few long term research programs in Australia
  • Climate Changes needs to be factored into fire planning
  • 36 sites in the Park, 2 remain unaffected by fire
  • Takes 3 months every year to check sites

Grampians National park, quite unique as a drought, Fire and Flood all happened in a short period of time.

Boom and Bust Patterns

So much more…

Re-cap and Group Discussion – Glenn Rudolph

  • There is a need for research to inform decisions – Documenting/Research into local stories and local beliefs (lightening example)
  • Needs to be a balance between research and practice knowledge
  • Using fire as a management tool, from a cultural burning perspective, linking Traditional Owners into the planning
  • Raising people’s awareness into what ‘we’ are doing including outcomes of research in the park and ‘good news’ stories. How?
  • Asset Based approach
  • The need for different age classes in the vegetation communities
  • Does it all have to be fire management, are there other alternatives?
  • Need to monitor what we are doing and what affects it is having and using this to build trust of the planning
  • Empowering the operational staff to deliver
  • Private bush, shared responsibility and challenges.

March Committee Meeting Report

 

Financial report

Currently we have a balance of $13,811.26. Of that $4250.00 is  for the ‘All Abilities  Walking Track’ booklet (see elsewhere) and $1306.65 is money from Friends of Zumsteins which also is already spoken for. (see below).
 

Flora books for Grampians

Steffen Schultz is working on a Grampians Flora Book. He will let Wendy know what plants he still needs to photograph over the next 12 months and ask FOGG and others to let him know so he can go and photograph them.

Ian McCann’s book – In view of the fact that Steffen is working on a book and no one on the committee currently has time to organise the reprinting of Ian’s book this is not being acted on at this stage.
 

What to do with the money we received from Friends of Zumsteins

(Received in 2010/2011 financial year.) In September 2011 we had decided to use the money for interpretive signage or some other distinctive use at Zumsteins. With the floods and the fire we never got round to finalising spending this money. It was suggested we look into erecting a board which has either birds, flowers or fungi of the area. However this has not been able to be done and seeing there is nowhere to sit and rest along the Fish Falls walk we now plan to put a seat along the track dedicated to the friends of Zumsteins.
 

Name Badges

Wendy showed us several business card designs. We chose one and will proceed to have them printed.
 

New sign board

It was decided to go with a double sided rectangle or feather style flag and organise some sort of weights for the base so it does not blow over.
 

Artist’s Pictures Donation

Artist John Kellett contacted our Ranger in charge Dave wanting to donate a large set of limited edition prints to support work in the Park and Dave suggested giving them to us. We are very grateful, but as we have limited opportunity to display them we are going to share them with the Walking Track Support Group who can sell them more easily at stalls in Halls Gap.

FOGGs will keep some to either sell or have as speaker gifts. The rest we will let the walking track support group sell to raise funds which will go directly into walking track works. We will advertise them on Facebook and in our Newsletter for Sale in case any of our members want to buy them. A price of around $80 was suggested.
 

Personal Locator Beacons for Hire

Some Parks staff have proposed the idea of FOGGs purchasing GPS units to hire out to the public possibly through  Brambuk. The hire fee would recoup the costs and could earn FOGGs some money. We need to think this through before making a decision.
 

Working with children checks

Margo has received her working with children check and has lodged a copy for FOGGs. Rodney also has one, but needs to add FOGGs.
 

All Abilities Walking Track Book

The new booklet is almost ready. Margo responded to the draft Matt sent out and he is taking our feedback into consideration.
 

Roundtable meeting

The next meeting was to be held on 15th March but it has been postponed to April 19 in order to organise speakers. The organisers are ‘aiming to gather local researchers to come in and update the group on local flora and fauna studies, particular in fire affected areas and how this may influence our future planning strategies.’

Advisory Group – Oct 2016 and Nov 2016

The AG has met twice since our last newsletter.

20 October

Well, not really an AG meeting, but we were part of the annual fire conference. The main theme of the presentations was the ten years since the Mt Lubra fire: what had been learnt, what was different now, new challenges. Then we went out to look at some of the challenges surrounding the current fire plan. Some of the same material was presented at the Roundtable meeting that Wendy reports on in this newsletter, so I’ll try to be brief.

Police Superintendent Paul Margetts, who was stationed in Halls Gap in 2006 but has since been promoted to a senior position in Horsham, gave us a most appropriate quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also unique for their apparent disinclination to do so.”, but then proceeded to show how some things have indeed been learnt from both our fires and those in other locations.

Dave Roberts then gave us his Top Ten observations:

  1. The increase in large landscape size fires: from a previous history of an average of once in 35 years, to 3 here in the last 10 years; Why? Climate? Fire regimes? Other? Where are we heading?
  2.  A new emphasis on community engagement: AG, Round Table, motto of Safer Together.
  3. More use of Risk Analysis tools.
  4. But also higher levels of risk: more people, more often, in more areas of the Park and closeby.
  5. I’ve mislaid!
  6. I’ve mislaid!
  7. Incident management is a profession now, with its own team within Parks.
  8. The Park is a huge economic driver for the region ($430 million annually). When it shuts down it hurts.
  9. The resilience of both the environment and the communities living here.
  10. New technologies coming in: smart phones, drones and more.

After lunch we inspected a private property where the owners have agreed to have it burnt as part of a wider planned burn near Pomonal. Then we drove to Lake Bellfield to have a look at the same burn plan from the other side. It’s desirable to break up the regenerating forest (burnt in 2006), to get a patchy age distribution and slow down any wildfire. But that’s not easy, especially so close to popular tourist areas. See Wendy’s Round Table article for more on this challenge.

November 8

Saw our final meeting for the year and it was a field trip. First to Mckenzie Falls to discuss options for parking within the limits of available funds. There is no intention at the moment to rebuild the house or the kiosk. Having a mobile coffee van seems to be working well. The parking plan is to move it further uphill leaving an open green area near the river.

Then we went to inspect where the Peaks Trail will travel along the escarpment approaching the Boroka Lookout area. Very close to the proposed track they have come across an unrecorded art site. We agreed that the site was too vulnerable and the track would have to be rerouted. (photo).

Our final stop had us again looking at the area near Halls Gap planned to be burnt in stages. Dave informed us that weatherwise, it would be best to burn at Easter, but for some reason that isn’t their planned date!

Margo

Round Table Report – Nov 2016

The last Roundtable meeting for the year was held on 30th November and its focus was the upcoming planned burns.

There are several strategic burns planned to manage fuel loads and reduce bushfire risk for the Halls Gap community. In order to carry out these burns there will be a significant impact on the tourist industry and residents of Halls Gap.

There are a number of fires planned to be carried out over a couple of years and done in a way to give a patchwork effect on the bush and at the same time reduce the overall fuel loads. There was a lot of discussion on the lack of real time information on planned burns and how the lack of warning can impact on tourist operators. There needs to be a better way of getting information out to those in the tourist industry as well as the public. A school camp operator pointed out that it is very difficult to change plans for a hike for fifty students with no notice. More notice is required for tourist operators to be able to change planned activities and there is a need to be given alternative areas to visit. This could be an opportunity to promote alternative areas in the Park.

Another suggestion was that the perceived ugliness of burnt areas could be an opportunity and how can we engage visitors to sites after fires to educate them and change the way people see the results of burns. Interpretive signs could be erected after burns to indicate when an area has been burnt. Planned burns could be an opportunity for Incident Management  training and any traffic management points could be used to disseminate information on the burn.

It was felt there is a need to use a range of techniques to communicate information, including social media and face to face opportunities for the public. An update on the planned burn program and progression from discussions of this meeting will be the agenda items for the next meeting which is scheduled for February.

Round Table Report

Nothing to report this time. Wendy was away for the last roundtable meeting and we did not have a representative. 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 years ‘Fire conference’ is being held at the Pomonal Hall on Thursday 20th October, the themes are ‘Ten years on from the Mt Lubra Bushfire’, ‘Safer together – A new approach’ and ‘Cross tenure Fuel management’. The day usually runs from around 9.30 am to 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.

Advisory Group

The group met on 29th August with once again a full agenda.

Fire Operations Plan – 2016 – 2019 and Safer Together introduction

 Glenn Rudolph of DELWP explained to us the philosophy of Risk Landscapes: using the best science and knowledge to think about fire risks in a changing environment due to climate change and other factors. The need to balance so many variables eg the minimum fire intervals different species need. The vital need to have and keep some really old unburnt areas, but to protect them you need to prevent fire occurring there or spreading in from elsewhere. Glenn demonstrated the way the computer modelling works by showing us various different ways a burn at Cassidy’s Gap would behave in conditions similar to Black Saturday if there were no preparatory control burns, and then with the recent burn having taken place. Then a similar exercise for a fire in the Ararat Hills, so much closer to homes.

We were given a pamphlet on Safer Together: A new approach to reducing the risk of bushfire in Victoria, which sets a whole-of-sector policy for bushfire management. It combines stronger community partnerships with the latest science and information to more effectively target our actions to reduce bushfire risk. It  is available from the internet: www.delwp.vic.gov.au/safertogether

I asked Glenn about the contentious issue of spring burns. His response was that, although they do affect the new growth of species such as orchids, and newly born birds and animals, with our weather conditions and the need to protect the Park from huge fires they are necessary. He added that burns at any time of the year have some damaging effects, and that a variety of timings could be beneficial. This echoed something I remember Kevin Tollhurst saying at a seminar some years ago.

Fire Recovery – Grazer Management

  • Deer Mgmt
  • Goat Mgmt

Next Mike Stevens spoke to us about the damage being caused by excessive grazing, particularly in the area burnt so severely in 2014. Damage to the floristic diversity, to the fauna diversity, the whole structural complexity, plus the damage being done by goats to some cultural sites. The culprits are both introduced and native animals, but until the numbers of goat, deer and rabbits are substantially reduced there will not be resources available for the problem of too many macropods. For rabbits the only affordable solution will be some sort of biological control. But how to deal with the deer and the goats?

Mike has spent a heap of time working on this, following up references, talking to researchers etc.

Just a couple of examples: studies showing that in what should be an open herb-rich woodland, it is now dominated by wattle and tea-tree. In another area prostrate heath species are dominating what should be a floristically diverse herb rich ground layer.

Next he showed a slide showing the alarming growth in the number of goats in the park. The population is now estimated to be 460+, that is 1.67 goats per sq km.

So what do we need to do?

  • Control red deer in high priority herb-rich woodland areas.
  • Feral goat control using live GPS tracking in remote arduous terrain to protect rocky knoll ecosystems and rock art sites.
  • Zero tolerance, opportunistic control of Fallow and samba deer to prevent population establishment.
  • Large scale biocontrol of rabbits in priority herb rich woodlands.

What can be done and how?

Goats are reasonably simple: Judas GPS and partnerships. Six three-week shooting sessions over the next two years, with a review in June 2018.

But what can be done about deer? At Wilson’s Promontory they recently did a successful trial of closing the park to visitors and then used a small group of well trained, tested and approved volunteer shooters to kill the deer under stringent conditions: no photos, no social media, no trophies. Is that possible to do here? Much more difficult, but what else could work?

After these two quite lengthy presentations and discussions we moved fairly briefly on to other topics.

Native Title Claim   Three traditional owner groups are working together for a combined claim over Gariwerd. This has any number of possibilities including a management partnership with Parks Victoria across the National Park. More information next time.

Grampians Peaks Trail   The team are busy with doing the environmental and cultural heritage assessment of the trail, including looking at the best route near the Wannon because of the presence of potoroos and Bandicoots.  They are evaluating the design of the Bugiga campsite, to learn lessons for creating further campsites. Talks have started on who pays for maintenance of the track once it’s built.

Cultural Heritage:     There will be two weeks of work removing graffiti and moss from art sites during October. Four new art sites have been found, one of them very special.

Zumsteins Update:    Work is proceeding on protecting the central cottage from the weather and restoring the less damaged ones.

McKenzie Falls precinct:     A sub committee was formed to look into plans for this area.

As you can see a very full meeting. Our next one is November 8. Don’t forget if you have something you would like me to bring to the attention of the group, do let me know.

Meeting at Parks Office with Parks Representatives – 24/06/16

Rod Thompson

On the last Friday in June 2016, FOGG’s members had their annual catch up with Park Management. It was attended by 8 members and 3 rangers, Dave Roberts, Tammy and Ryan.

We were given a basic rundown of the structure of the management of the park, consisting of 2 teams. A park management team which includes Tammy, Ryan, Mark who have all been involved with FOGGs and our activities over the course of the last year. The park team has a total of 14 people under Dave himself. This is complemented by a Fire Management team of 13 staff. The two teams try to work together to manage various impacts, but have to diverge in some areas too. Caity will most likely be continuing in her position as the volunteer coordinator. This is 97% sure but Conservation Volunteers Australia need funding to match Parks Vic. who have funding locked in. The park and the Halls Gap office could easily use 3 or 4 Caity’s (volunteer coordinators).

The discussions went on to cover topics such as fire management and recovery, resourcing of the park and funding of staff.

We had the opportunity to raise topics that concerned us as well as hearing about the things that Dave wanted to inform us of.

These topics included,

  • Funding,
  • Fire management, and trialling of new regimes of control and fuel reduction.
  • Disaster recovery, after all our park has been hammered in recent years.
  • Peaks trail planning and construction, there is only 18 months left to spend the funding that has been set out.
  • Helicopter  flights were raised by the group, but the response from Dave indicated it was more an issue for community patience than environment at this stage as impacts appear to be minimal due to regulations imposed. Hopefully they stick to planning requirements and it’s not a big issue, only the same level of concern as B-double trucks, motorcycles or noisy school groups.
  • Phytothera (cinnamon fungu) impacts were raised by another member of the group. It was noted that water dispersal could be a concern with a wetter season setting in, after many years of dry, but not an increasing issue as impacts have not been noticed yet. Anything off track is high risk for contamination, and if working in areas known to be impacted hygiene is essential.
  • Rock Wallaby reintroduction programs,
  • Sallow Wattle control and eradication.
  • Options for seats or signage at Zumsteins with the funding we have available. With plans afoot to do other works on cottages etc, we can contribute, but delayed until it can be combined with those plans. Anything we contribute needs to fit with the current standards, whether it be signage, or a seat. It was suggested that we could also  put that contribution towards the Wartook/Zumsteins trail. A heavy hardwood or even a stone seat could be done with the use or parks equipment.
  • Signs to discourage stone cairn construction by visitors. It is possible these signs might even cause a resurgence in something they believe is declining.

In other news shared with us, Mark Whyte has just returned from the International Rangers Conference. Its an asset to our park having someone like Mark, young and enthusiastic about the future, especially after the conference that has brought him in contact with staff from parks management world wide. Those of you who have met Mark know what I mean

The new CEO of Parks Victoria is passionate about conservation and scientific studies, using knowledge and evidence to determine the future of National Parks in our state. He has been to the Grampians  three times since appointment (6 months), which bodes well for our park and the support it needs from the seat of decision making at head office.

We finished off the evening with a convivial meal at the hotel chatting about the topics discussed with the staff, and others of our own choosing.