Newsletter

March 2006

Members could be excused for thinking that we have been asleep all summer but our lack of EFN activity is the result of executive members being otherwise engaged with the Grampians fires.   The following paras note biodiversity concerns related to the fire and are the observations of Peter Forster.

Grampians Bushfires
It is now more than two months since the fire broke out of Grampians Park and affected private landholders from Mafeking to Willaura and then north to Moyston, Pomonal and Halls Gap This fire followed the New Year's eve fire at Stawell which affected the high conservation value Black Range.   Houses were burnt as well as livestock, fences, buildings, machinery etc.   Tom Guthrie's email outlined the damage to his property and the challenges faced.

Most of the roads that were shut because of the danger of falling red-gums in particular have been reopened. Environmentally the fire was very damaging because of the speed and intensity. Eg Bill Taylor who lives directly east of Mt William watched the east face of Mt William burn from bottom to top in about 10 minutes. Mt William is now white or black with about six tiny green bits high up in rock crevices. Many of the high habitat value trees with hollows in the park and on private land are completely burnt and if still standing on roadsides are being removed for safety reasons.

The fire was less intense in one patch north of Mt William where a fire had occurred about a year earlier.

The first few days were spent fighting the fire and shooting sheep and then moving sheep to agistment. Recovery meetings for residents were held with many agencies present. The overall co-ordination is through DHS (Dept of Human Services). Recovery centres are established viz one stop shops for fire affected residents and others to be directed to the relevant authority re all sorts of issues. Eg clearing native vegetation on fencelines, emergency hay supplies, emergency grants, clothing, financial advice. Many volunteers have assisted with fire recovery (eg VFF, numerous Service Clubs, sporting clubs, Church Groups, Green Corps, individuals, Landcare Group members.)

Agricultural and Natural Resources recovery meetings are weekly events. Issues discussed include suitable forms of Government assistance, service delivery of Department of Primary Industries, Catchment Management Authorities, local Government, environmental risks and what we can do about it, emergency hay stockpile and likely demand, stockwater supplies, stock containment areas, cost of moving sheep to and from agistment and who pays, whole farm planning, business and financial considerations (Rural Finance), how landholders are coping, etc, etc.

Environmental issues to date:

1. Landholders requesting assistance with removal of very large red-gums fallen from roadside Crown Land across fence lines that need replacing (this is a landholder responsibility on most roadsides that no agency will take responsibility for officially). Local Government has been assisting as they have had to remove dangerous trees along roads and have the appropriate machinery on site in many cases.

2. Rights to clear fencelines for new fences (eg Ararat Rural City local government guidelines say 1 metre either side of fence line and I think 6 metres vertically). A fairly liberal interpretation of rules has been applied. Ararat Rural City has relaxed the fence clearing guidelines from 1 metre as of right on landholder side to 2 metres.   Glenelg Hopkins and Wimmera CMA's are offering incentives to landholders to move fences back from boundary lines where significant native vegetation can be saved. This has the additional advantages of reducing the workload of landholders and increasing the safety level by not felling trees that have encroached on the fence lines. Many landholders have taken advantage of this offer, some were probably not insured for fire damage. Other farmers have offset their fences minimal distances, with no incentive, to avoid destroying vegetation following a farm visit by CMA/DPI staff. (NB the incentives start with a minimum setback of 5 metres). Offset fencing will provide a better roadside biolink in the short term and over time.

3. DSE/Parks Vic has offered to clear boundary fence lines adjacent to National Park. The bulldozed material is placed on private land. (NB they have no obligation to provide this service). They are also restoring damage caused in fighting fires eg earth breaks.

4. Many landholders are not replacing fences on existing lines and are choosing to fence off waterways, wetlands and native vegetation for conservation and financial reasons as these types of projects are attracting Government incentives.

5. Whole Farm Planning and incorporation of Stock Containment Areas into the plan is being promoted (by DPI/ CMA's) to improve conservation of vegetation and soil and encourage sustainable agriculture. Placing fences to conserve native vegetation, protect waterways and soil and approved landclass fencing as part of a Whole Farm Plan is 100% deductible and therefore highly attractive from a tax liability point of view.

6. The importance of private conservation to protect local populations of species has been emphasised because of the severity and extent of damage in National and State Parks. The loss of wildlife in the Grampians was very high. Pockets of bush on farms can be refuges as the severity of fire will probably be less than in a park.

7. Damage to National Park infrastructure was severe and many resources have been directed to repair and replace damaged infrastructure quickly to minimise tourism losses.

8. Farm forestry projects suffered damage. Pinus radiata died, some native plantations pruned for clear wood will need to be coppiced (and start again) and about 30% of wood chip blue gums are now worthless as charring on the trunk ruins paper making quality.

9. Blue Gum plantations provided some safe refuge for wildlife. For example a flock of white winged choughs and several echidnas and swamp wallabies have been noted near the plantations. (NB Echidnas appeared to have coped well with sightings in many burnt areas.)

10. Sand movement will be a major issue particularly in bush areas and water supply catchments.

Native vegetation Plans
The Victorian Government has recently announced that landholders will only require a single permit if they develop a farm native vegetation plan.   Once approved the plan could cover native vegetation actions over ten years, balancing clearing with offsets.   This voluntary approach has been developed in consultation with the VFF. The native vegetation assessment process has also been simplified and current exemptions to the planning permit requirements have also been reviewed.   Further information on the DSE website - www.dse.vic.gov.au

John Ives has drawn our attention to the process in place to review requirements for landscape scale native vegetation plans in NSW.   An issues paper has been released and an options paper is expected soon.   These are available through the Natural Resources Commission website www.nrc.nsw.gov.au

Bush Broker and Habitat tender
The Government has also advertised for expressions of interest for landholders to register for "Bush Broker". This will allow landholders with native vegetation to receive payment for managing the vegetation as offsets for other activities that cause loss of vegetation. Register by ringing 136 186 - cost of local call.

A similar process is in place to protect and enhance red-tailed black cockatoo habitat and preserve buloke woodlands in south west Victoria and south east South Australian.   This is called "Habitat Tender" and is funded by the Australian Government. Details phone 1800 503 504.

Envirofund
Australian Government Envirofund round 8 is open till 28 April - phone 1800 065 823 or visit website www.nht.gov.au/envirofund

Dead timber on farms
Please note a separate attachment which is a summary of Mairi Anne Mackenzie's paper outlining best practice for managing dead and fallen timber on farms. Comments appreciated.

Emerging water issues
John Pettigrew has written the following notes and would like members to comment on these emerging water issues.

Water trading and Stock and Domestic dams in peri-urban areas both have the ability to affect the environmental health of our rivers and streams.

Stock and Domestic Dams
Reviews of future water requirements have highlighted the impact of changing land use (increased cropping and plantations in dryland areas) and the need for control of an expanding number of Stock and Domestic dams in our landscape.

Rural subdivisions, hobby farms and lifestyle living together with on-farm stock and domestic dams have eroded flows to rivers and streams in all catchments.

Water Trading in the Murray Darling Basin
For more than a decade irrigators in many areas have had the opportunity to trade water entitlements. The result has been huge volumes being traded downstream in all States in most cases to satisfy the needs of new horticulture developments.

Water Trading is seen as the means by all Governments to achieve higher economic returns from this scarce and valuable resource and this is to be applauded however

Water Trading is a blunt tool that addresses only economic benefits and appears to ignore Social and Environmental impacts caused in the process.

One of the impacts of water trading is the increasing summer flows in rivers and streams to satisfy this increasing obligation to supply water further downstream and its long term effect on river health. Decision makers have little scientific evidence on the impact of high summer flows to rely on; more attention is needed in this field.

We all understand the impacts of past over allocation of our water resource and the pain caused in reducing entitlements, but seem prepared to ignore this over allocation of delivery capacity and it's environmental impacts.    

Note: We plan to have regular newsletters and all contributions gratefully received.

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