Consultation Seems To Be The New Fashion

Rodney has already talked about the local consultation he and Bill attended, but wait, there’s more:

Did you take part in  a web survey “Join the conversation about Strengthening Parks Victoria”? It has now closed – the time frame was extremely short and it was not well publicised. I tried to put in my 2c worth but I see from the website that my story is there but not my plea for better funding. (It seemed to be for individuals not groups, so no FOGG response). Here is a little about the survey:
Victoria has one of the most comprehensive parks systems in the world, spanning a total
of 18 per cent of the state, including land and sea, and supporting citizens and visitors.
Strengthening Parks Victoria is a project about celebrating the spectacular landscapes,
habitats and places we have managed for nearly 20 years, and understanding how we
must change to deliver the best outcomes for Victorians, visitors, our economies, and the
Country we care for. Help us set Parks Victoria up to be a world class parks management agency, and a great partner, for the next 20 years and beyond. Tell us your vision for parks, your experiences, expectations and aspirations…..”

I hope that it is still  on the website, www.lets-talk.parks.vic.gov.au/strengtheningparks where you can read what others wrote, and maybe can still vote for ideas you like.

Then there was a chance to make a submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the control of Invasive Animals on Crown land. I did manage to put in my thoughts on this and to talk to my MP Emma Kealey about deer and funding for our park.

FOGG are part of the Friends Network, which is a loose association of many”Friends of …” groups, not just national Parks.  They too are asking for feedback on how the network operates. This I am handing over to our committee. The latest Friends Network newsletter had more than a few interesting pieces. Here is just one of them, and if you would like to get the full document do email me as per the back page.

What is the value of our parks?
Parks Victoria recently published Valuing Victoria’s parks (2015) which provided some quantification of the benefits of parks. They came up with eight important benefits for which values were estimated.

The report by Parks Victoria includes a range of other benefits in addition to these eight. However, these eight alone provide total annual benefits to
the value of $1.8 billion. This means that for every dollar of taxpayer funding provided to Parks Victoria, the community is gaining a benefit of more than $11. This seems a more than reasonable return for the funding invested.

What do we pay for these benefits?
At the heart of any asset management program is creation, maintenance and renewal. The same applies to our parks. They need care, understanding, managed use, and restoration. Protection alone is not enough. Taxpayer funding for Parks Victoria (direct government grants plus funding from the Parks & Reserves Trust Fund ) averaged around $183 million a year for the four years to 2014-15. In 2015-16 this rose to an estimated $190m in 2015-16 and funding is budgeted to rise to almost $200m in 2016-17 .

The benefits to the community of funding our system of parks are substantial and ongoing. In order to maintain and grow these benefits for the future, substantial real increases in funding are needed.

What contribution does VEFN (Victorian Environmental Friends Network)  make?
Members of the VEFN (including us Foggies) make a substantial contribution to the operation of Parks Victoria through volunteer work such as weeding and planting. In 2014-15 volunteers contributed 213,347 hours of time to the maintenance and upkeep of the 200 parks managed by Parks Victoria. These volunteer hours were estimated by Parks Victoria to be equivalent to 29,000 volunteer days or 127 people working full time for a year. The volunteer effort in 2014-15 was equivalent to more than 13% of Parks Victoria’s FTE staff of 958 people. Parks Victoria values this volunteer time as being worth at least $6 million per year. This contribution of volunteer time adds significant value to the parks and to the community. Both Parks Victoria and the government recognise the value of this volunteer contribution and expect it to continue or increase. The government’s draft biodiversity strategy Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2036 recognises the contribution and potential of volunteer efforts.

However, increasing volunteer time also poses management and organisational challenges. Experienced, long time volunteers get older. Demands and distractions of life compete with time for volunteering. Increasing logistical and statutory requirements for all manner of things ranging from safety, insurances and reporting tend to detract from hands ‘on-ground’. Yet some of the greatest rewards and productivity come from the shared learning, trust, and inspiration generated by community volunteers and staff working together to care for the land. We need the backing of a coherent government program to reinstate and underpin funding and field staffing for Parks Victoria together with a coherent and planned effort to sustain and grow volunteer efforts. This should be done in the context of a strategic plan that provides certainty to both Parks Victoria and the community.

Fire And Climatic Extremes Shape Mammal Distributions In A Fire-Prone Landscape

Ryan Duffy has sent me a paper recently published in Diversity and Distributions.  It is too long and detailed to include here but most thought provoking. The authors include Susannah Hale who spoke to us earlier in the year. If you would like to read the whole document I can email it to you, but I am giving you the abstract and then a few more details.
Fire and climatic extremes shape mammal distributions in a fire-prone landscape

The Grampians Fire and Biodiversity Project is a collaboration between Deakin University, Charles Sturt University and Parks Victoria. The team is interested in the ability of land management to enhance the capacity of the Grampians ecosystem to cope with and recover from changes in climate
and disturbance regimes.

ABSTRACT
Aim: Extreme climatic events and large wildfires are predicted to increase as the world’s climate warms. Understanding how they shape species’ distributions will be critical for conserving biodiversity. We used a 7-year dataset of mammals collected during and after south-east Australia’s Millennium Drought to assess the roles of fire history, climatic extremes and their interactions in shaping mammal distributions.

Location: Grampians National Park, south-eastern Australia.

Methods: We surveyed mammals at 36 sites along a ~50-year post-fire chronosequence in each of the 7 years. We modelled ten mammal species in relation to fire history, productivity and recent rainfall. Next, we examined the consistency of species’ fire response curves across each of three climatic phases relating to the Millennium Drought. Finally, we identified the optimal distribution of fire ages for small and medium-sized mammal conservation in each of the three climatic phases.

Results: The majority of species were influenced by fire history, and all native species were negatively associated with recently burned vegetation. Seven of ten species responded positively to the end of the Millennium Drought, but six of these declined quickly thereafter. Species’ responses to fire history differed depending on the climatic conditions. However, the optimal distribution of fire-age classes consistently emphasised the importance of older age classes, regardless of climatic phase. This distribution is in stark contrast to the current distribution of fire ages across the study region.

Main conclusions: Mammals in the study region face an uncertain future. The negative impact of drought, the short-lived nature of post-drought recovery and, now, the possibility of a new drought beginning forewarn of further declines. The stark contrast between the optimal and current fire-age distributions means that reducing the incidence of further fires is critical to enhance the capacity of native mammal communities to weather an increasingly turbulent climate.

Some of the details: We used a large dataset on native mammal communities spanning seven consecutive years (2008–2014). Our study region, the Grampians National Park, has recently experienced strong interactions between fire and climatic extremes, including three large fires (ranging from 35,000 to 85,000 ha) since 2005, and severe drought followed by record-breaking rains. The consecutive multiyear nature of our dataset allows us to investigate the effects of fire and rainfall simultaneously. The region has a diverse range of small-and-medium-sized mammals, including two monotremes, 14 marsupial species and six rodent species (two of which are introduced). Using this dataset, we address four questions of fundamental importance to both ecological theory and applied ecology in fire-prone regions:

  1. Does fire history drive mammal abundance and occurrence within this region, and if so, over what time frames?
  2. Do climatic extremes affect mammal occurrence, and is there evidence for boom and bust phases within this temperate ecosystem?
  3. Do fire history and climatic extremes interact to shape species distributions?
  4. What is the optimal distribution of fire-age classes for mammal conservation and does this differ under different climatic phases.

Site selection and description: Thirty-six study sites were selected within the Grampians
National Park . Sites were initially selected to examine the consequences of a large wildfire on the mammal community. The large wildfire occurred in 2006 and burned ~85,000 ha (~50% of the park). Sites were chosen to encompass areas that were burned (n = 19) and unburned (n = 17) . Sites not burned in 2006 represented a post-fire age gradient of ~50 years. Sites were spread across the park and were predominately in heathy woodland and sand heathland and were constrained by a further four factors: (1) all sites were located at the same elevation to account for the influence of elevation on rainfall; (2) all were established within an intensive fox baiting area, maintaining consistent management practices; (3) all sites were accessible via the road network for time efficiency; and (4) all sites were established with a distance of at least 2 km between them, increasing site independence.

Implications and conclusions: The strong association between mammals and rainfall means that a future with increasingly intense and longer-term droughts could imperil many species. In addition, large-scale wildfires have established the majority of the ecosystem in an early successional period. This trend of larger, more frequent and intense fires is predicted to continue under scenarios of climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013). Fires occurring during protracted droughts will be particularly damaging and have the potential to drive species towards local extinction. Fire management must aim to burn strategically to minimise the size of these fires and retain as larger areas as possible in older successional states, particularly during drought.

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FOGGS have a policy of financially supporting students doing research in the Park, and of inviting them to share their knowledge with us and the public. As Ryan observed to me as he gave me this paper, it will be fascinating to see what results the next trapping programme will reveal, after such a lovely wet winter. It is so good that this kind of longitudinal study is happening, and that such a good partnership is in place between our rangers and the Universities.

Local Landcare News

The Wildlife Art Museum group, Greening Australia, Jallukar Landcare  and the Pomonal Australian Plant Society have joined forces to establish a local Seedbank Project. The long term project aim is to conserve native grasses and habitats which are on the verge of becoming threatened and to improve agricultural sustainability in the Jallukar Landcare area. The Project has been fortunate in receiving funding to get started, from the Wimmera Regional Community Grants Round Three. Under the grant, in the first year, the aim is to collect, store and propagate native grass seeds from the Jallukar Landcare area. They will also be inviting people from the local community to join in. Subsequent years will see mass propagation and revegetation of local land.

Also a new Landcare group has just started in Halls Gap. They will be concentrating on foxes, cats, and weeds. Hoping for a grant for some professional help, but also working on an education campaign for property owners.

Bird Observing in the Grampians

JanBert Brouwer

The joint outing with the Birdlife Horsham branch on Sunday July 3rd started with a bleak weather outlook following rain and low lying clouds. Not something that is likely to make the birds put on an active show. However a large-turn out of bird observers often means many keen eyes to detect birdlife.

The Birdlife group always prepares their trips very thoroughly with a reconnaissance visit preceding the outing to find interesting birds. Tim Mintern and Ian Morgan had recently sighted emu wrens near the air strip in the western part of the park but these birds proved to be too elusive for this outing. However the Scarlet Robin put on a splendid display there and was a real highlight. It was surprising that even water birds were very scarce on the Moora Moora Reservoir.

Hennie and Bill Neve hosted us for our lunch break at their home in Wartook. A wonderful warm environment on this wintery day for some lively social interaction that is such an important  part of both clubs.

All in all, the group managed to sight 53 different bird species that day although I must admit that my tally was way down as usual. A remarkably high number for these weather conditions. A few notable examples were also close encounters with the White-Throated and the Brown Tree Creepers, the Restless Flycatcher, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, and several different Thornbills (Brown, Buff-rumped, Yellow and Yellow-rumped)  with a final appearance of the Eastern Spinebill.

Photo Point Mapping of Sallow Wattle

Last year  FOGGs volunteered to keep a pictorial record of Sallow Wattle at 20-30 spots in the Park. We would mark each spot with a star picket and it would be a matter of going back to the same spot twice a year and taking a photo at a time that suits the individual volunteer. It has been a slow start but we now have the map with the spots to be monitored and enough volunteers to spread the load.  The actual photo work is about to start on this long term project.

Update On The Orchid Conservation Program

Our contractors have erected a locked fence to keep grazing animals away from the highly endangered orchid  Caladenia audasii —(or McIvor Spider-orchid, Audas Spider-orchid) in the Stawell Ironbarks Forest, and there is a remote camera to deter any human predators. The team will keep a close eye on it and when (if?) it flowers it will be crosspollinated from the other surviving colony near Bendigo and eventually more plants can be grown at Cranbourne then released back into the wild.

Cultural Arts Site Excursion

I don’t get to enough FOGGs activities because I live in Melbourne and get caught up in activities there. However, as a passionate student of the Aboriginal story of Gariwerd, I made sure I could be at the cultural sites excursion run by Ben Gunn on April 9th. We 2016-04-08 FOGG_29met up at Buandik and I noticed a few keen non FOGGs members also turned up, having found out by various means (thanks to the wonders of the internet) that this rare opportunity was being offered.

Twenty of us set off up the Goat Track – some by foot and some by car to the location Ben had chosen for our adventure. As we tramped through the bush to visit three sites in all, Ben generously filled us in on many aspects of the archaeology of Gariwerd art sites and discoveries. We learned about the changing nature of interpretations of the art. Amusingly Ben criticised some of his own earlier attempts at proscribing meanings to the symbols.

The fire of 2013 in this area destroyed much vegetation, and regrowth is slow. 2016-04-08 FOGG_10However the great gift is that so much is accessible which once was very scratchy to get into. One of the big bonuses, as we learned from Ben, is that several art sites have been re-discovered. Some by climbers and some by fire recovery crew. Our main objective was to visit one of these sites as well as stop to look at a previously known site now closed to the general public.

When we arrived Ben asked us to spot the art, and no one managed to do so. He had tricked us a bit by standing around the corner from where it actually was. All the same it was a good lesson in just how hard it is to find and identify genuine art.  Which makes it all the more remarkable that new sites are being found and recorded.

We also got a demonstration of how newly emerging technology can be used in this process. Ben showed us how a photo with a camera loaded with special software can enhance 2016-04-08 FOGG_35the faded art and make it starkly visible.

We also got to watch him ‘map’ the shape of the shelter with a kind of laser gadget (sorry for my technical vagueness).

I found it exciting to know that more cultural sites are being mapped and recorded. The richness and density of Aboriginal sites in Gariwerd makes this a unique and special place in Victoria, and it is wonderful that the count of sites is going up.  Even though almost all sites are necessarily kept secret to protect them from vandalism and degradation, it is very necessary for them to be preserved in the record of such a long lived culture which was so vibrant.

I think we all felt privileged to have this opportunity to have a brief look at how this is happening and feel even more supportive of the process. I tried to encourage Ben to write a book on Grampians rock art. I for one only want to learn more.2016-04-08 FOGG_47

Ben told us of the danger some sites are in; e.g. Climbers putting bolts in rock faces near art they probably haven’t even seen.  Preservation of the site we visited is probably assured by the fact that it would be very difficult to find it again. Possibly Ben led us there on a rather roundabout route purposefully. Of course we all understood well the vulnerability of the sites and this excursion helped to shore up our dedication to their protection.

Descending from the heights of the range and her secrets we gathered at Buandik picnic ground for lunch and chat. There were numbers of other picnickers and walkers and the car park was chock-a-block with cars. It looked more like a city park on a busy Sunday afternoon. I propose it might have been at peakIMG_2804 usage of all time – as I have rarely, over the years, seen more than a few cars there at any one time.

A few new keen members were signed up for FOGGs over lunch and some of us went on to take another look at Billimina and Manja shelters as a dessert option.

Thanks to Ben for answering our innumerable questions so interestingly.

Chris Sitka

Brushtail Rock-Wallaby Site

Although there have been issues with remote cameras in the last month, the two young at foot were alive and healthy when last detected in early March (as in photo).

The quoll has not been seen since last July, so it has either moved away or died.

Platypus Survey

The Wimmera CMA conducted a platypus survey  of the McKenzie River near Zumsteins in early April. It showed that despite the ongoing extremely dry conditions the fragile population is holding its own. They captured a new juvenile about 4 months old, the fourth year in a row that this has happened. They also recaptured  a 16 month old female. The Wimmera CMA chief executive said that environmental water releases through ongoing dry conditions  had a focus on maintaining suitable conditions for as long as possible so platypus, fish, bug and plant communities could stay in good shape.

Members of the public (including us FOGGIES) are urged to register any sighting on the platypusSPOT.org website.  Enjoy the very informative site anyway!

New Tourist Loop?

Northern Grampians, Southern Grampians, Horsham and Ararat councils are looking at developing a tourist ring route encircling the Grampians. It would be all bitumen, and allow visitors to enjoy views of the Grampians from across the plains as well as from nearby, as well as enabling local producers to showcase their products. Planning is still in the early stages and would involve sealing part of Winfields Rd and Flat Rock Rd.