Category Archives: FIre Operations Planning

Phase 2 consultation – what did people want?

You might like to read this summary from the Phase 2 consultation that demonstrates that people across Victoria – and importantly in our region – want a ‘whole of landscape’ approach – or in the jargon ‘tenure blind’ and that means taking action where it counts most – that might be a cool burn (‘good fire’) in the forest, or asking a private landowner to graze down a ‘firebreak’ next to a precious ecological remnant, or in a multitude of other ways that e can now start to explore.

Read here – or look for the links when you do the bushfire management survey on the Engage Victoria website.

Biodiversity and planned burns – DELWP Meeting – Thurs 18 Oct, Castlemaine

DELWP is holding a Joint Fuel Management Program meeting (what was called the FOP) in Castlemaine at the Ray Bradfield rooms on Thursday 18 October between 4:00 and 7:00 pm.  Invitations have been sent to various groups and individuals, so please feel free to attend this forum.

We are keen to have more discussion about the proposed Bruce’s Track burn in the Muckleford Forest. Hearing that the burn was about to happen this spring (not 2019 as scheduled), got us in action, sharing our concerns with DELWP about biodiversity impacts.

The Bruces Track planned burn is located in the bushfire moderation zone (BMZ) which has a fuel management objective of reducing bushfire speed and intensity with the focus on reducing impacts on life and property. The zoning scheme was developed as part of the former West Central Bushfire Risk Landscape and was subject of engagement including a meeting in Daylesford in 2016 that Muckleford Forest Friends and FOBIF were involved in. As a result the BMZ (then called NEW03) in the Bruces Track area was reduced in size.

That’s good news – but what about the mitigation measures for specific species – especially during spring breading and nesting? The ‘sudden’ outset of the burn was a serious worry. Based on our advocacy about known bird species active in the area, the DELWP biodiversity assessment staff have been asked to consider our advice and make recommendations on what DELWP should do reduce impacts. Their initial advice is to delay the burn until autumn, minimise canopy scorch and leave unburnt patches in the burn unit. The burn will now be  postponed until autumn 2019.

We have been asked to add our records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) – which really highlights the poor state of knowledge that DELWP have about species present in the Muckleford Forest (and other areas too of course).  As readers would know from earlier posts, we have a series of 20 minute, 2 ha bird transects set up in the forest which we are monitoring quarterly and importing our data via BirdData.

Much of the data for the Bruce’s Track area has been collected through other forms of observation. Any volunteers out there who could help enter this data into VBA or BirdData?



Burning public land – keeping a watching brief

The world has shifted on its axis – just a little! The 5% target has gone, and in its place is a ‘risk’ based approach. Based on the drop-in session in Castlemaine on 1 June 2016, and noting the comments posted by FOBIF after the session in Bendigo the week before, here’s my take on it.

Before the burn: Demo Track west side

Targets have gone

Many burns on the previous FOP (Fire Operations Plan) have been ‘withdrawn’ because they were not needed as part of a strategic approach or (in one instance) couldn’t be achieved effectively (see below).

The risk landscape analysis method has been used to identify a few new planned burns based on risk – but nothing for the Muckleford Forest so far.

Burns withdrawn

In the Newstead-Maldon area, the planned burns that have been withdrawn are:

  • West side of Mt Tarrangower: this was a planned burn of 518.5ha scheduled for autumn 2018. The rationale for withdrawing this burn is that it would be difficult to achieve safely (steep slopes). A better solution might be a firebreak to the west on private land, given that the main risk is a grass fire running from farmland into the Mt Tarrangower reserve and then straight up those steep slopes – but despite the new ‘tenure-neutral’ approach, this option was not shown on the plan.
  • Goughs Range: this was a planned burn of 8ha, scheduled for autumn 2018.

 Burns or treatments going ahead

  • Newstead – CAS056: a small area, already approved and close to town, but on the south east side and the rationale for a burn has not been clearly explained
  • Maldon – CAS048: series of small areas, mainly mulching and near town (MULGA exclosure plots now recognised and excluded)

What seems tricky?

1 – What is the FOP process this year?

It seems like the drop-in sessions in Bendigo and Castlemaine are the consultation on the draft FOP – I have asked for a copy of the plans for our area and will post on this blog once I get them; comments are welcome until the end of June. A draft FOP will be signed off in July and be made public in August. In previous years, the draft FOP has been published for comment.

2 – Zoning review

There is a review of zoning underway. The zoning determines the approach taken when a planned burn is done, and the percentage of the landscape to be burnt. The first stage of the review is looking at APZ and BMZ:

There are four fire management zones:

  • Asset Protection Zone (APZ): where intensive fuel management provides the highest level of localised protection to human life and property by reducing radiant heat and ember attack
  • Bushfire Moderation Zone (BMZ): where there is fuel management to reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires, either close to towns or as they spread through the landscape
  • Landscape Management Zone (LMZ): where fuel management is done to reduce fuel hazard, improve ecosystem resilience and manage the land for particular uses (such as forest regeneration and water catchment protection)
  • Planned Burning Exclusion Zone (PBEZ): where there is no planned burning, mainly to protect particular areas that can’t tolerate fire.

The current zoning is shown on Map 7 (page 25) of the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan: West Central. From what I could see on the draft zoning plans, this review will increase the areas covered by the two zones (APZ and BMZ) and this will mean a high percentage of those landscapes will be burnt. It will also reduce the area of LMZ (there are almost no PBEZ areas across the whole region). The test is whether these changes are really strategic and focused on risk-reduction. I was told the review of the APZ and BMZ zones is focusing on risk to life and property. This review is expected to be made public for comment in the next month.

There will then be a review of the LMZ which may take 1-2 years; it will seek to establish specific objectives for blocks within each LMZ and these might range from protecting old growth Box-Ironbark from burns for 100 years, to burning to create a range of age classes, to burning to control gorse etc.

A draft of the revised zones – apparently based on the risk landscapes approach – was up on the wall. One of the proposals presented to the Bendigo drop-in session the previous week got a pretty strong reaction, and an alternative with a very reduced BMZ was on the wall in Castlemaine. The draft proposal for the Muckleford Forest includes a new area of BMZ around Spring Hill Track, another to the south of the highway at Green Gully, and a large area across the northern side (Maldon Historic Reserve/Smiths Reef area).

But why not review all the zones together to achieve a more holistic, integrated approach to sustaining and recovering our forests. And despite the new Safer Together policy, DELWP are again solely focused on public land. The Safer Together policy says:

This new approach sees us move from a hectare target for planned burns, to a risk reduction target for bushfire management. It means a more integrated approach across public and private land, with fuel management just one of the range of different management actions we will take to protect lives, homes, jobs and the environment.

The approach presented by DELWP shows no evidence of being ‘tenure neutral’ – either in relation to the new risk-reduction burns, nor in the zoning review. Why not?

Is the zoning review just a back door way to continue large burns on public land? We need to understand the rationale for the proposed zoning changes and what actions will be taken within each zone – for example, what is the proposed frequency of planned burns? What monitoring will be undertaken to confirm that fuel loads and therefore risk have been reduced? And when will a strategic, tenure-neutral plan be produced?

3 – Community knowledge

Again I raised the importance of integrating community knowledge into the data sets they are using – particularly around biodiversity. The Dja Dja Wurrung Community Plan is going to be considered, and there will be a careful exploration of some cultural burns (hurrah!) but what about the knowledge of others – those who walk these landscapes, care for them, study them. There is no process for bringing that knowledge into DEWLP’s practice. And when I asked about this, the answer was that the community will continue to be offered the opportunity to comment on plans. Or we can enter our data into the very complex Victorian Biodiversity Atlas if we have the time and energy. But where is the outreach by DEWLP to help gather in the valuable information held by knowledgeable individuals, groups and communities?

Updates, meetings and a grant!

EBox-Ironbark Research – Community Presentation

Presented by La Trobe University and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

Listen to the outcomes of the final report on the impacts of large mosaic burns on Box Ironbark ecosystems in the Heathcote/Greytown area.

 Tuesday 24 May 2016, Bendigo Town Hall, Hargreaves Street, Bendigo, 7.30pm (follows DELWP Fire Planning Open House). For more information click here for the Box Ironbark Landscape Mosaic Burning Project Invite.

Share your knowledge on fire planning

Join Forest Fire Management staff to discuss the strategic plans which outline the frequency and location of planned burns, the three year schedule of burns and the mulching and grooming activities planned for Central Victoria at one of our two open house events. For more information click here for the Flyer for FOP Open House 2016.

Bendigo Open House
When: Tuesday 24 May 2016
Where: Bendigo Town Hall, Hargreaves Street, Bendigo
Time: 2pm and 7pm- Drop in any time to discuss fire planning
Followed at 7.30pm by the Box-Ironbark Landscape Mosaic Burning Project community presentation

Castlemaine Open House
Wednesday 1 June 2016
Where: Ray Bradfield Rooms, Frederick St, Castlemaine
Time: 2pm and 7pm- Drop in any time to discuss fire planning.


Understanding fire in our landscape: a community conversation

Our Muckleford Forest Friends group, auspiced by Maldon Urban Landcare (MULGA), has achieved a grant from the Mount Alexander Shire to run a community conversation to explore fire in the Newstead-Maldon landscape. Supported by community and external experts, participants will learn about fire risk, local fire history, values, ecology and environmental history of the our area, and contribute to community-based approaches to landscape management for biodiversity and human safety. Thanks to those who supported our application: MULGA, Newstead and Muckleford Landcare, Newstead 2021, Connecting Country, the Coordinator, Conservation and Land Management Bendigo TAFE, the CFA and the Newstead CFA brigade and by a number of key individuals. More soon as we start planning the project, hoping those who read this blog will want to get involved.


Birds in the Muckleford Forest

For some more positive news about birds and partnerships in the Muckleford – watch this space!

A new year

Its been a long time between posts on this blog – apologies.

Based on the outcome of the last Fire Operations Plan consultations and our continued advocacy, the Muckleford Forest now has no planned burns scheduled. There are proposals for planned burns in Goughs Range and Mt Tarrangower – but not this year.

Since the Fire Operations Plan was finalised, the Lancefield fires have happened. A planned burn that went seriously wrong. The report is now out on that burn, and in recent days, the media has been full of criticism about what has been happening down on the Otways’ coast. Terrible experiences for all those involved.

Here is a good article by Phil Ingamells from the Sunday Age on prescribed burning – limits to fuel reduction burning.

What astonishes me is that we think that we can ‘manage’ nature by going in and lighting up the bush, but without the resources to control what we start.

And when I talk to a lot of people about ‘bushfires’, they believe that most are arson – deliberately lit! Not sure if my sample is mainly urban folks, but as a country dweller I know that most fires are ‘accidental’.

Reducing these accidental fires seems to be an important and ignored goal – the slasher or the motor bike in the very dry paddock grass, the car driving into grass beside the road, the grinder in the shed where the sparks stream out … no doubt there are many other careless things that any of us might do one day, by just not thinking.

But if we stopped these careless, accidental fires, we would cut the ‘fire toll’ remarkably. Most fires are not deliberately lit – they are humans being careless. We need to manage ourselves – our actions. We are the major makers of fire and we are the threat to the bush – not the bush to us.



Our submission on The Fire Operations Plan

map for submission 2015-18Below is our submission on the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018: Murray Goldfields Region – Muckleford Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve & Surrounds



30 August 2015

TO: Program Manager Planned Burning and Roading PO Box 905 Mildura VIC 3502

Dear Program Manager,

Submission on the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018 Murray Goldfields Region – Muckleford Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve & Surrounds

This submission is being made on behalf of a network of local people and organisations – the Muckleford Forest Friends Network – focusing on the Muckleford Forest district (see map).

We have made submissions on FOPs each year since 2011 and been actively involved in the fire management planning over that time.

Consultation on the current Fire Operations Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the open house consultation on 11 August 2015 in Bendigo to talk with DELWP officers about the draft Fire Operations Plan for the Murray Goldfields district that is part of the larger Loddon Mallee Region.

We really appreciated the opportunity to discuss specific issues with DELWP officers, rather than attending a presentation. It was disappointing that it was not possible to hold a session in Castlemaine.

It was also disappointing that the interactive map was not available with the release of the draft FOP as it enables the community to easily identify the location and timing of proposed burns.

Risk-based fire planning

It is good to see that a risks-based approach is starting to be evident in the FOP planning process and that the focus for prescribed burns seems to be increasingly on directly protecting settlements, towns and other economic assets.

At the same time, this approach will offer benefits for our natural bush landscapes, biodiversity and cultural heritage sites by protecting the forested landscapes we value highly.

We are pleased to see that ALL of the proposed burns in the Muckleford Forest (all in the Landscape Management Zones) have been removed from the FOP 2015-2018.

As we have advocated in previous submissions, we would like to see a recovery plan for the Muckleford Forest, based on building resilience and biodiversity, and respecting the fire tolerance intervals established by scientific studies undertaken by your department in the recent past. We believe that there would be considerable local support for such an initiative.

Rationale for prescribed burns

It is disappointing that there is no clear rationale for the overall prescribed burns area target for our Murray Goldfields district (and presumably this is true for the whole state), and that the planned contribution of the Murray Goldfields district is proposed to increase to 11,285 hectares per year for the next three years, an increase back to the level of prescribed burns in 2012/13. We hope that the amount of actual area treated by prescribed burns can be reduced and focused on risk reduction.

Equally it is disappointing that the rationale for each burn continues to be presented to the community in the FOP as a standardised phrase or sentence, rather than presenting an accurate and clearly defined purpose for each burn. This should change so that the community can appreciate the intention of each burn, can see how it relates to risk and to the safety of particular communities or other assets, and can monitor the outcomes of these burns for themselves. This would be one way to help build a more informed and engaged community.

Biodiversity and large scale burns

We think it is of critical importance that the objectives and approach to large-scale burns (whether in LMZ or BMZ) should be more specifically defined and subject to further engagement with communities and local experts. These burns have the greatest potential to cause ecological damage, and good practice should require the greatest care and real transparency in their planning and delivery.

Our experience is that these burns have not been planned based on a good understanding of the biodiversity of each proposed burn area, and pre-burn surveys of species are not done. We appreciate that resources available to DELWP may be limited, but our view is still that the current approach does not protect biodiversity and may not accord with the government’s legal responsibilities.

One of DELWP’s hand-outs suggested a notional 37 years between prescribed burns, potentially being 74 years if only 50% of an area is burnt. As has been established by your own departments scientists, Box-Ironbark forests are NOT fire dependent – that is they do not need fire for regeneration and although they can tolerate fire, too frequent fire will eliminate important species. We believe that there needs to be longer-term planning for public land management so that we can rebuild resilience into our forest landscapes. If fire is to continue to be used as a management tool, greater pre- and post-monitoring will be needed to ensure species are not being depleted or, in the worst case, lost.

Risk and the whole landscape

The Muckleford Forest includes a number of areas now disconnected and given separate names including the Maldon Historic Reserve to the east of Maldon. Some parts of this forest are now privately owned. We appreciate that DELWP’s focus is on public land, however we look forward to a time when a landscape-scale approach can be implemented with government agencies and communities working together. It is apparent that a greater focus is needed on grass fires originating on private land as these are the most common types of fires in this area, often putting both settlements and remnant bushland at risk.

The Newstead Community Plan proposes the development of a public-private landscape-scale approach to fire risk management, and now could be a good time for DELWP to consider getting involved. If there is interest from the department, please contact the undersigned for more information on this project.

Proposed burns in our area

We are aware that there are two previously approved, large scale burns in our area and we would like to be included in consultations and planning so that we can contribute local knowledge and perspectives into the planning of these two burns. We note that they are not scheduled until 2018 and we support this timing as we believe that it will enable adequate planning and consultation time.

  1. Maldon – Goughs Range: 160.8ha, scheduled for autumn 2018
  2. Maldon – Mt Tarrengower: 518.6 ha, also scheduled for autumn 2018

We would also like to be consulted in any zoning reviews that we understand may arise from the Landscape Risk initiative.

Finally, thank you for the opportunity to provide a response to the Fire Operation Plan 2015-2018 in relation to the Murray Goldfields District.

Yours sincerely

Ms Chris Johnston: On behalf of Muckleford Forest Friends Network.


Want to comment on the Fire Operations Plan?

FOP CoverThe DRAFT Fire Operations Plans for Victoria have now been released for public comment. We are in the Murray Goldfields District – part of the Loddon Mallee Region – here is the draft plan for our area and a map showing proposed burns for Maldon-Newstead-Muckleford area.

Looking at the Muckleford Forest and nearby areas, a number of burns previously proposed have been dropped, including the Donkey Farm Track burn, Dunns Reef burn and Gower-Cemetery Road burn – a total of 940ha in the Muckleford Forest.

In releasing the DRAFT FOPs, Graham Phelps, Regional Director, Loddon Mallee Region says: “The development of the FOP is informed by Strategic Bushfire Management Planning, carried out by DELWPs bushfire risk landscape teams. There are seven bushfire risk landscape teams across the state. Each team develops a strategy to reduce the risk of bushfire impacting on communities, infrastructure and the environment … Each year we review and update the Loddon Mallee FOP.  

Updates are based on the latest local information and driven by DELWPs strategic bushfire risk management planning. Mallee Murray Goulburn and West Central Bushfire Risk Landscape teams produce Strategic Bushfire Management Plans that assist with developing the Loddon Mallee FOP by focussing on fuel management activities in areas where there is the most impact on risk. This leads to an effective and efficient plan for delivering fuel management and ecological burns.”

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThis indicates a major and welcome shift towards a risk-based approach. But there is still a target of 53,685 hectares for the Loddon Mallee region for each of the 3 years covered by the plan – so 161,055 ha in total.

Here is a list of the burns that are proposed around Maldon-Newstead-Muckleford Forest:

Burns in Asset Protection Zones (APZ)

  • Maldon Stump Road: Spring 2015 – 9 ha close to Maldon township in an Asset Protection Zone- that is “To provide a high level of strategic protection to human life, property and highly valued assets”. This is scheduled within the next 10 days. Approved in the previous FOP.
  • Maldon-Castlemaine Maldon Road Complex: Spring 2017 – 59.5ha in an Asset Protection Zone near Maldon township. Approved in the previous FOP.
  • Newstead-Woods Road: Spring 201710 ha in an Asset Protection Zone to the east of Newstead. New proposed burn.

Bushfire Management Zones (BMZ)

  • Mt Tarrengower: Spring 2017518.6ha covering all or most of the western side of Mt Tarrengower aiming “to develop fuel reduced areas of sufficient width and continuity to reduce the spread of bushfire”. Previously approved – but of concern as to how it is done in terms of protecting ecological values as well as the township of Maldon. This area was burnt in a wildfire in 1981.

Landscape Management Zones (LMZ)

  • Maldon-Goughs Range: Autumn 2018 – 160 ha in a Landscape Management Zone – the purpose isTo provide an irregular mosaic of areas of fuel reduction which will complement works in adjacent fire management zones and can assist in ecological resilience and forest regeneration.” Approved in the previous FOP – but of concern as to how it is done in terms of protecting ecological values.

These LMZ burns are the ones that have been of greatest concern to us, FOBIF and LEAF – and to ecologists. Why? Because:

  • these burns are not planned based on a good understanding of the biodiversity of each proposed burn area (for example, pre-burn surveys of species are not done)

If you have questions about this DRAFT that you would like raised with DELWP when we attend the consultation session next Tuesday 11 August, please email them to OR use the comment function on this post OR come along to the consultation session yourself and ask questions – it’s at the DELWP Office, corner Midland Highway and Taylor Street, Epsom. It’s a drop-in session, so you can drop–in at any time between 3pm-7pm.

You can also go and look at the DRAFT FOP in Castlemaine at the Parks Victoria office, Castlemaine Matheson Road (Fri 9am – 4pm) or at the DELWP Bendigo office during normal office hours.

Comments and suggestions about DELWP fire management planning can be sent to: Program Manager Planned Burning and Roading, PO Box 905, Mildura Vic 3502. And comments may also be sent by email to: