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

Round Table Report

Wendy Bedggood

The last Grampians Roundtable meeting for the year was in December. We reviewed the original purpose and role of the roundtable and decided it was still relevant and a worthwhile group to keep going.

It aims to:

  • Improve communication between stakeholders, land management agencies and the community
  • Develop a shared understanding of complex land management issues, including fire management
  • Provide information that can contribute to DEPI and Parks Victoria’s decision making procedures, practices in relation to land management in the Grampians
  • Provide information that can contribute to government policy without being an official or formal source of advice to government.

I represent FOGGs, other members of the group represented are Hamilton Field Nats, CFA, Landcare, Wine growers, Apiarists, tourism industry, rockclimbers, the VFF, CMA’s, councils and the indigenous community, some of these groups are not regular attendees and we will be looking at ways we can help improve their attendance. Of course Parks and DEPI staff  are also present and we have an independent facilitator. Some people wear several hats as they are members of more than one group. We are all struggling with ways to disseminate the information we gain by being on such a group and at present I use this newsletter.

Some of the suggestions discussed in earlier round table meetings have been taken on board during the past two large fires, leading to better response from the community.

Dave Roberts gave an update of the recovery works from the January 2014 fire and how many of the areas where infrastructure is being replaced will be better than before the fire. While many popular sites have been reopened to the public there are still many where the vegetation has been slow to recover and which will hopefully be reopened by Easter next year.

Horsham Rural City Council and Northern Grampians Shire each employed a co-ordinator to assist with activities to help communities from the January fires. We had a report from these two ladies on the activities they have been running and where some of these communities are at with their recovery process. These positions will end in June 2015.

APRIL 3: Meeting at Parks Office

 

 

About a dozen people met in the Mural room and Mike Stevens and Ryan Duffy gave us an update on park activities.

 

Mike explained in much detail the events of the January Northern Grampians Complex fire. On Jan 15 several lightening strikes started fires across the Grampians, Parks, CFA and DEPI staff worked hard to put these fires out, but inaccessibility and bad weather lead to a couple of fires in the Wartook area not being able to be controlled. Mike described to us how events unfolded and showed us a program called Phoenix Rapidfire which illustrated how the fire progressed. The program had been used during the fire to predict the fire behaviour and to give people warning of the likely path it would affect. Phoenix Rapidfire was developed after the 2006 bushfires and has been improved each year as more information from each fire season is fed into the model.

 

On the extreme weather days planned burns 3 years and older had no effect on slowing the fire front.

 

Ryan Duffy cultural and natural values ranger updated us on animals which have been captured on cameras around the park, the Brush tailed Rock Wallaby program and the use of trained dogs to sniff out Quoll scats. See Ryans article for more details.

 

After the meeting we had a meal together and made a few decisions: FOGGs will put in an application for ‘Communities for Nature’ grant for a fence around the Caladenia audasii site in the Ironbarks.

 

We have run out of FOGGs membership application forms and will start looking into getting them reprinted. We allocated up to $2000 dollars and a print run of 1000 to 2000.

 

Wendy Bedggood.

 

 

MINUTES OF GENERAL MEETING SEPTEMBER

 

General Meeting Minutes(shortened)

  • Minutes from the meeting at the Parks Office on 24th April were accepted.
  • Treasurer Mabel that in August we donated $3000 to Museum Victoria to help travel costs for two of their post graduate students who are working on projects in the Park.

Business arising

  • Bioscan final report still not out.
  • The Grampians Peak Trail so far has had preliminary approval for camping sites along the way consisting of a pad for a tent, a 3 sided shelter for bad weather and toilets. More luxurious accommodation so far has not been proposed.
  • The proposal to put a chair lift to the top of the Pinnacle has been dropped.
  • Membership forms need to be redone.

Business

  • Wendy has checked on what we need to do re the changes to model rules. We have no need for action at the moment, just to remember that our committee should be Pres, VP, Treas, Sec and at least two ordinary members. We need 3 committee meetings a year and the quorum is 4 members.

  • FOGGs applied for a Healthy Parks Healthy People grant last December to do a planting at McKenzie Falls. We asked for $2800 and we were given $425. After discussions with Parks staff we decided to see if the money can be used to do some planting at a camp ground where sallow wattle has been removed or if it has to be used at McKenzie Falls we may just plant some trees in the car park.
  • Katherine Dyson the Parks volunteers co-ordinator hurt her ankle while out in the field requiring an operation and she will be away from work for several months. FOGGs will send a get well card.
  • Wendy passed round a draft letter to be sent to politicians, from FOGGs expressing our concern at the environmental impacts the burn targets will have on the biodiversity of our Park. Some small suggestions were made and this letter will be sent out shortly.
  • Proo moved that Margo be made a life member, all were in agreement. Mabel suggested that a certificate be made and presented to Margo.
  • Proposed activities for next year, were a meeting in February (probably 3rd weekend), March Cleanup Australia day, April meeting with Dave Roberts July an evening talk at Parks Office, other months to be decided.
  • The meeting was closed and six of us set of to do the new Zumsteins to McKenzie Falls walk