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.

Committee Meeting February 2016

Membership fees At the AGM it was tabled that we discuss an increase in subscription fees at a committee meeting in time for the new membership year on 1 July 2016. The membership has been $10 since 2006 with various costs increasing markedly since then it was agreed we needed to increase membership fees. We also discussed whether to offer associate membership for those who just want to get the newsletter and don’t necessarily wish to be active members. However, we decided to just have 2 levels of ordinary membership being $20 for a single and $25 for a family (those living under the same roof). This level of membership will allow us to pay increasing insurance, postal and other running costs.

Activities for rest of year

A  proposed activity calendar was drawn up in order to be well organised and able to advertise our activities more widely in the hope of attracting some new membership.

March and April activities have already happened and are written up in this newsletter.

Proposed activities, and more details will appear in Newsletters and emails closer to events.

  • May: Ross Cayley to give us a talk and a field trip. (See calendar at end of this newsletter for details)
  • June: Park update from Dave and other staff.
  • July: A bird outing, with Horsham Bird Observers club somewhere in the Park.
  • August: Red Gum walk tidy up.
  • September: A wildflower trip perhaps led by one of our local experts.
  • October: AGM with a walk to Mt Rosea and hopefully with good weather we can have our meeting on site otherwise we will need to adjourn to a venue in Halls Gap.
  • November: Denis Crawford  19th November to run an insect day at his property.
  • December: It was suggested we have another try at a twilight picnic on Mt William in the hope of better weather.

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

Received in 2010/2011 financial year. 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. If the money we were given is insufficient for this, the other suggestion was that there is nowhere to sit and rest along the Fish Falls walk and we may be able to put a seat along the track dedicated to the friends of Zumsteins.

FOGGs Facebook page

A facebook page has been setup in the hope of capturing an audience which use this form of communication. The page will be managed by Rodney and Margo. Its main purpose will be to be another avenue to advertise and report on our activities with the hope to gain membership from it.

Zumsteins History Book

Margo will write a book review on the book for our next newsletter.

Sallow Wattle

Wendy and Rodney have put pegs in to mark photo points. Rodney has made the stands to sit on the star pickets to line up the spot for the photo shoot. Wendy needs to create a map with GPS points and write the instructions and send to the people who indicated they wanted to participate in this project.

Other points of discussion

It would be nice if we could wear badges when we are out doing activities to advertise that we are FOGGs.

Ben mentioned that there could be a proposal to produce a book on rock art sites and we may be able to help with publishing.

Student Presentation at February Meeting

Susannah Hale, a PhD student from Deakin University, spoke to us about the findings of a study on ‘The Effect of Fire and Climate on Small Mammals’. The study started after the 2006 Bushfires and has been running nine years. There were 36 study sites established and each are of 150 square metres. When surveying the sites, baited Elliot traps are used and are checked twice daily, captured animals being tagged, weighed and measured before release. Populations go through a boom and bust phase which are affected by the previous 18 months rainfall and the ‘time since fire’. In the years straight after fire, exotic species predominate. In the first year of the study, 85% of captures were exotics. The house mouse occupies areas quickly after fires and then declines. Four years after fire, 91% of captures were native species.

Small mammals respond strongly to ‘time since fire’; native species do better in wetter periods which are a boom phase and ‘time since fire’ is less important.

Some study sites have been affected by more than one fire as well as the floods and dry seasons.

We don’t think of the Grampians as an arid region but the boom and bust population dynamics observed in the study indicate that it is acting as an arid region. This Grampians study provides a unique data set helping to understand dynamic ecosystems.

It is hoped that monitoring can continue long term through trapping at these sites. More can be learnt about the immediate post fire responses of small mammals and the role of climate refuges in the temperate zone.

Where to now?

  • continue to monitor long term trapping sites
  • immediate post fire response of small mammals
  • role of climate refuges in the temperate zone
  • fuel and structure dynamics – climate change scenarios.

Several of us (including Susannah) continued on to the pub for a very social evening.

FOGGs have a strong commitment to encouraging and supporting research into the biodiversity of our Park. Susannah was not one of the students we supported financially, but whose work is so important and we will help followup work if needed. We hope to have at least one student presentation on our calendar each year.

Wendy & Alan Bedggood

Advisory Group Report

As usual, the March meeting of the AG had a very full agenda, which we struggled to complete. The main discussion was an update on the Grampians Peak trail.  Dave has mentioned in his piece just what a huge task this is, and now here is the somewhat more detailed presentation the AG were given. The money for the trail ( $30.2 million)  has to be spent by September 2019 so there is a real urgency now. The finished track will be 144km long (61km existing track, 83km new), with 10 hiker camps, 1 new school camp, several trail heads and carparks, with waymarking, interpretative signage, link and maintenance tracks. In addition an online booking system and phone apps need to be developed. A massive task. At this stage no funding has been set aside for maintenance equipment and facilities (such as quad bikes to service the camp sites) and there is no expectation that roofed accommodation will happen on park land.  Potentially in the budget are water storage and preparing guidelines for roofed accommodation in case a future government allows it. Nice to have, but not currently funded, would be mobile phone coverage and seed funding for tracks to lodges outside the Park.

There are three staff working on it fulltime.: Project manager Mark Gallon,  “paperwork manager” Annie Wilson, “ground manager”  Rod Spinks. Mark reports direct to PV CEO and the Project Control group, who in turn report to the Project Steering Group which also has representatives from Regional Development Victoria, DELWP and local councils. Annie’s tasks include getting approvals from all and sundry. Not just what you would expect: cultural heritage, threatened species, bushfire overlays, but also two Catchment Management Authorities, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, plus some roads are local council, some are VicRoads, campgrounds need approvals ….. She is a busy woman! Rod at the moment is dealing with what needs to happen on the ground. The 83km of existing track need to be assessed and some re-alignment will be needed – increased traffic affects the sustainability, and they want to give walkers a really good aesthetic experience. A local volunteer scoping group is walking these tracks and reporting on them, as well as taking a preliminary look at where the new sections of track should go. And of course Annie can’t organise cultural and vegetation surveys until the proposed route is more or less decided in some detail.

The trail will be built in three stages: Stage1 is already under way: get existing tracks up to standard; Stage 2: the new sections where the approvals are simple: Stage 3: the new sections with more complex approvals.

The team are well aware of the daunting task ahead, but confident and committed.

Advisory Group Report (s)

 

Margo

The AG has met twice since our last newsletter.

In October we looked in some detail at some of the challenges to  the environmental values of the Park.

The Brushtail Rock Wallaby Recovery Team gave us a depressing summary of the programme since it started in 2008. Although 39 animals have been released at the site, there are currently only 4 adults. Of the 9 births on site, none have survived to reproductive age. The causes of the deaths are not clearly understood; some probably predation, genetic weaknesses in the animals have been identified and new genetics introduced in more recent releases, and it is suspected that introducing new individuals to the group each time may have resulted in stress. The upshot is that no new releases will be made at the Moora site. For the next 10 years the team will concentrate on the wild population in east Gippsland, and on maintaining a captive population of genetic value. If all goes well they may establish a second release site well away from the Moora site.

In the meantime monitoring of the remaining animals will continue, along with fox control. Maybe coincidentally, now that reintroductions have ceased there are more young around than ever before, but whether they will make it to adulthood remains to be seen. I know that Ryan and his team have been active in their fox patrols over summer. They shot 3 quite recently, but there’s one wily one appearing on camera that they haven’t managed to deal with yet.

That was followed by Ryan updating us on his areas. There’s been some good news on new findings of squirrel glider and sugar glider sites, there’s the daunting task of dealing with the sallow wattle invasion, there’s the need for an increased focus on grazer management (deer, goat, rabbit) , with thought needed on whether macropod grazing is a problem as well. Unfortunately although there is work being done on a specific cat poison, it is not ready for trials.

Ryan is also responsible for cultural programmes and there has been quite a bit of work done on recording and examining new sites as well as conserving existing ones, with graffiti being a problem at some sites.

Claire Evans gave us an update on Fire Recovery activities, what’s complete, what’s in progress, what has yet to be started. The Northern Grampians fire was so severe, and the weather has been so dry, that some areas are still to fragile for visitation. MacKenzie Falls is quite a dilemma; it is open, but what buildings, parking areas, paths etc are needed all need careful planning.

Mike Stevens took us back to considering how best to plan for our parks into the future. For a couple of years already, Mike – although sitting in the Halls Gap office – has had a wider role across the state. He is working on developing a decision making process based on defining a landscape’s attributes and the needs arising from those attributes. The Greater Grampians is the first landscape (out of 16 across the state) to be studied in this way. Five key attributes have been identified: our floristic diversity, small mammals, habitat structure, aquatic values, arboreal mammals. During the process the big impact of grazing on the parks became clear and the need for more resources to deal with this. (I found this really interesting, I had forgotten how important things we don’t often see, like the crayfish and other aquatic plants and animals are.)

We finished off the meeting with brief discussions on: changes in the landscape – increased tree coverage, burning regimes; increased rubbish in the Park; campfires; how the AG (and individuals) can advocate and influence public discussions on things like chairlifts, helicopter flights; thanks to the Dunkeld community for the volunteer work to rebuild Strachan hut.


 

Our December meeting in contrast had just one main theme – education.

Grampians Education Strategy

  • Recent changes to the Brambuk Agreement have resulted in Education services not being exclusively delivered through Brambuk.
  • PV Education team(Melb) have offered some funds and capacity to undertake a rapid Ed Strategy.
  • Agreed the importance of reviewing the current content on offer and make it contemporary to curriculum needs
  • Each youth education sector has been identified, categorised and objectives for engagement set. The sectors are: school camps (mostly yrs7-9 focusing on team building and activities), visiting school groups (some VCE subjects related), local primary schools and local preschools.

We then drove down to Dunkeld to hear about the Bush Kinder and to look at the site they use. Deb Millard (preschool teacher and AG member) described the bush kinder concept and invited us out on site for a discussion.

General comments: simple, effective, investment in the future.

A very short General Business followed:

The Management Plan Review is overdue and emerging as the next on the corporate list. Challenge around resourcing it to the required level to get the outcomes needed.

Note: 2016-17 priority with input from the Advisory Gp

Future topics for AG meetings in 2016: Peaks trail, Fire and burn planning, Management Planning, Interpretation, Cultural Heritage, Heritage Day, Marketing.

Finally, Barry Clugstone and I were invited as part of the Advisory Group to meet the new PV CEO Bradley Fauteux in December and to accompany him on a whirlwind visit to the Park. We walked into the Grand Canyon part of the Peaks Trail to show him what has been done there, then the Bugiga hiker camp, then on to Reid’s Lookout to discuss natural values and cultural heritage, and at McKenzie Falls to look at fire and rebuilding issues. Barry and I were the only civilians around, and as we travelled in the same car as Bradley and Dave had a good opportunity to promote our views.

Grampians Peak Trail

Margo

Those of you who read the VNPA’s magazine “Park Watch” will have seen that the trail’s first campground features on the front cover and will have read a lukewarm review of it. The criticisms of the campground are similar to those FOGG had (except that we liked the concept of a shared communal area, but thought it should incorporate a table) and are being taken on board for future campsites. People registering for the walk are being invited to give  their feedback. So far the main improvement people would like to see is drinking water, which is quite a challenge with almost no roof area to catch water. The PW article talks about the campsites on the higher areas, maybe having more permanent structures. So far I haven’t heard anything, but at the next AG meeting we will be having a detailed update and I’ll report on it next issue.

When PV’s CEO was here on his visit, we were also taken to look at the newly opened Grand Canyon path, still closed when PW visited. I found it most impressive. Large boulders have been moved sideways, new stepping stones put in place. The number of bridges and hand rails has been heavily reduced, making it all look very natural.

Round Table Report – 8 Dec 2015

Wendy Bedggood

At the final Roundtable meeting for the year we were presented with the government’s response to the Inspector General for Emergency Management (IGEM) recommendations on the report into the ‘Performance Targets for the Bushfire Fuel Management Program on Public Land’ which was carried out early in 2015.

It is difficult to summarise all that was presented at the meeting but for those who want more information documents are at the website delwp.vic.gov.au/safer-together Several of our local identities star in this document.

The Main points are:

  • The focus is changing from hectare based targets to fire risk reduction targets these are more subjective and a lot harder to measure.
  • As part of the new approach, fire and land managers will work with communities to involve them in decision making about bushfire management all year round.
  • Bushfire risk levels will be different across Victoria, and will be looked at at a local level and will involve local communities to understand what this risk means for local people, property and the environment, and what actions can be taken to reduce this risk.
  • Fuel management will be one of a mix of strategies used to keep communities safer and more resilient to bushfire events.
  • The planned burns will not mean less or more burning, but will identify smarter and more strategic burns.
  • There will be a transition period and until June 2016 the planned burn programs will continue as scheduled for the next 6 months.
  • 2016/2017 the government will use a risk reduction target to guide fuel management on public land, maintaining bushfire risk at or below 70%
  • 2017/2018 Land and fire agencies will combine their efforts to manage fuel loads on private and public land, based on where and how risk can most effectively be reduced.
  • 2020 Ultimately it is seen there will be one fire management sector which will measure all bushfire management strategies against risk reduction in order to invest in the most effective ways to reduce risk.

The Phoenix modelling system is going to be heavily relied on for predicting risk reduction and as with many government things the devil will be in the detail. It was not clear to me how or who the local community engagement would take place.

There has also been a change to the personnel driving the Round table meetings and I am unsure  how and if it will continue into the future.

Round Table Report (23rd June 2015)

The roundtable meeting held on 23 June was not our usual meeting format but instead a workshop with roundtable members and members of the Grampians Advisory Group. In February the Victorian Government asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) to conduct a review of performance targets for the future bushfire fuel management program on public land. In conducting the review, IGEM examined a risk-based approach to bushfire fuel management against the existing hectare-based performance target program. The IGEM considered many reports and called for written submissions from individuals and organisations with expertise and knowledge of bushfire fuel management on public land. This report was released in late May and can be viewed at

http://www.delwp.vic.gov.au/news-and-announcements/igem-review-into-bushfire-fuel-management

The report makes recommendations which include a shift away from a hectare-based fuel reduction target. It recommends a move toward a risk-reduction approach where the most at-risk areas are prioritised for fuel reduction. The Government is consulting with stakeholders, including fire management agencies and community groups to ensure local values and knowledge are considered. The Grampians roundtable is one of 6 or 7 such community groups being consulted.

The opinions and thoughts from the workshop will be summarised and will be compiled with summaries from the other meetings and form part of a submission presented to cabinet some time in August. Anyone who would like to see any of the feedback I get can contact me.

Wendy


Talking of fire – and it’s a topic that will remain “hot” for a long time yet – committee member Rodney Thompson has sent me a link to an article which disputes the research by Bill Gammage in his book “The Greatest Estate on Earth” which was briefly reviewed here in my report on last year’s Biodiversity Seminar in the Spring newsletter.

Rodney writes: The following link, to an article published online provoked a little thought and reflection on my part. This article does have a bit of a bias against the current burn regime, mostly based on the claim that the decisions were made without adequate and accurate scientific information. It raises some great points about the way our impact on native wildlife impacts on forest flammability, and how introduced pasture species also exacerbate problems. It’s interesting to note one of the attempts to solve the flammability problem on roadsides has resulted in the reintroduction of native grasses. The other point I loved was the idea that our landscape doesn’t thrive on fire, but it tolerates it and recovers as best it can and has adapted to this end.

http://www.eastgippsland.net.au/media/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-stop-lighting-fires

Now, having praised Gammage’s book it is only fair to allow that it has also been criticised. Thank you Rodney for alerting us to this. However I do not want this newsletter to become a debating corner on prescribed burning. Yes it is important but it’s an extremely complex issue, and we don’t have the space or the expertise. But we do hope that research and open- minded debate continue. Ed

Advisory Group Report

The Advisory Group met on 18th March with the new convenor Kevin Bolwell in the chair. Once again we had a full agenda.

We first looked at how things are going with fire recovery works from last summer’s fire in the northern part of the Park.

McKenzie Falls Precinct

There are currently no plans to re-open the kiosk, but the option for someone to apply to do so will remain open. In the meantime, a mobile coffeecart has permission to serve coffee there when it is busy. The cottage will not be rebuilt. The toilets will be repaired, where they are currently. Power and telephone will be restored. (Currently there  is no mobile reception so a fixed line will be needed- how best to do this is still to be decided). The question of parking is a real problem and we looked at some of the options. The current parking areas are not coping with demand at busy times, but how much of the park do we turn into carpark? A problem not confined to this site. The fire has opened up new vistas of the river above the falls and new open space is planned along the river and where the former house was. But in busy times should people be discouraged from picnicking here to reduce the pressure on carpark spaces?

Cottages at Zumsteins

A detailed consultants’ report on what best to do with the cottages  has been received. Their recommendation is to work to repair and restore the central cottage (which was not burnt), by reroofing it, repairing and repainting the timbers, making the floor level.  The other two cottages “Orange cottage”  and “Green Cottage” were badly damaged. There is not enough insurance money to fully repair these and the consultants gave several options for both. Most likely a separate new protective roof over each of them, reducing the walls to a safe level of 1 metre and repairing them with new pise. They could then be easily accessible to the public and interpretive signs explaining about the building methods etc. We were generally in agreement and our comments were noted and there will also be discussions with the  Laharum community.

Stapylton Campground

The campground was badly affected by the fire and also by finding asbestos in the soil, which has now been removed. The Parks team are taking the opportunity to rethink the layout. There will be better separation of group camps from individual and family campers and better provision will be made for caravans and campervans. Also the carpark for the Ngamadjidj cultural site will be moved to make a longer walk in, thus giving more of a sense of arrival. The plan looks excellent. The site urgently needs more revegetation work (again), and is sorely missed. We had quite a discussion as to alternative sites in the northern end of the park, on both park and private property. A formal campsite on Coppermine track is a possibility as it is already very popular with groups despite the lack of facilities. This led us into a discussion of the issue of campfees and the need now to prebook sites. Pre-booking will definitely help, but the sudden introduction of high fees is creating problems.

The Grampians Peaks trail

Work is almost complete on improving the track through the Grand Canyon area. The hiker camp near Mt Rosea that we inspected in November is now finished and the first stage of the walk will be officially opened shortly. The camps will be given indigenous names and this first one will be Bugiga, which is the name for Mt Rosea as recorded in the diaries of George Robinson. The next camp site will be near the start of Redman Rd. The Advisory Group is still very concerned at the funding model for the trail. We have had no response to the letter we sent to the previous minister so we resolved to write again, and also to Parks Victoria CEO.

Environment and Heritage

The quoll at the brushtailed rockwallaby release site is still being recorded on remote cameras but attempts to catch it or even to get samples of its DNA have not yet been successful. Unfortunately the young BTRW seen out of the pouch in spring has not been seen lately and is feared to be dead. We don’t know yet whether these two items are connected. There is overall a decline in the population of small mammals. Is the drying climate the cause? Some of the heritage news is also depressing. There has been an increase in graffiti at some sites, and an education strategy is needed. I also asked Dave about the proliferation of rock cairns along the Balconies track. When there were just a few it seemed a fairly harmless activity, but on my last visit there were just so many and people going further and further off the track to erect them. Dave told me that action had already been taken to dismantle them and that one of the tour operators had received a warning.

Finally we moved towards setting up some project working groups so that some of these important areas can get more focussed attention. Our next meeting is in June.

Round Table Report

Wendy Bedggood

The last roundtable was held on 24 March and we had a full and varied agenda. Just a few of the topics covered follow:

  • Russell Manning gave details of the last six months fire season. The Wimmera had a very busy fire season with more individual fires than we have experienced for many years. The dry conditions since winter last year lead to the country being very dry and high fire risks even under relatively mild conditions. Between September and November there were 30 fires. Fortunately we had a fairly mild late January, February and March. However the start of January saw DELWP managing 51 fires between Jan 2 & 7. With only 8 dozers and 8 aircraft, resources were stretched. The 2 big fires which impacted on the Grampians Region were the fire at Moyston and near Rocklands. As we had our meeting at the Moysten CFA shed we heard from locals about details of the fire and we later toured some of the burnt areas.
  • The Victorian Government has asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) to conduct a review of performance targets for the future bushfire fuel management program on public land. The report on this was due at the end of March but due to larger than expected number of submissions the report has been delayed. This is on our agenda for discussion at our June meeting.
  • Glenn Rudolph told us about the planned burns and how they are trying to look at burns more from the fire risk perspective and some of the large areas on the Fire Operation Plan (FOP) will have small burns applied over successive years to create a mosaic effect. They are wanting to move away from the annual FOP process and have ongoing discussions of the burn programs. The dry conditions have meant that this years burn program will have to have changes made to it.
  • Andrew Govanstone updated us on the South Western Bushfire Risk Landscape Plan (SWBRP). Seven risk landscape areas have been set up across the state. Strategic management plans for three of these areas were recently launched and the rest are due this year and the SWBRP should be available in July 2015. These plans take into consideration population centres, infrastructure, fire history, and environmental assets. The Pheonix Rapidfire Modelling computer program is used to identify the highest risk areas and which areas will best modify fire behaviour and reduce risk to assets. The model has been used to reassess fire management zones and does not vary greatly to the rezoning which occurred a couple of years ago. Over the next couple of months there will be opportunity for stakeholders and the wider community to have input into this plan. If you want further information on this plan contact Andrew Govanstone, Strategic Partnerships Facilitator, on 55270425 or by emailing
  • SWBRL