Tag Archives: 5% target

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Many burns on the previous FOP (Fire Operations Plan) have been ‘withdrawn’ because they were not needed as part of a strategic approach or (in one instance) couldn’t be achieved effectively (see below).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Burns withdrawn

In the Newstead-Maldon area, the planned burns that have been withdrawn are: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

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Minister fails to answer – so let’s go walking tomorrow!

The Minister responds

We have heard back from Minister Lisa Neville. What we got was a standard letter that focuses on the review by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management Victoria on performance targets for future fuel management program on public land. We know it’s a standard letter because we’ve seen the response to others who have also sought a moratorium on this seasons burns where there are significant biodiversity issues – like Donkey Farm Track and in fact much of the Muckleford and adjoining forests.

To quote Minister Neville: ‘We’re not pre-empting the results of the review, so planned burns scheduled for 2014-15 are still current’.

But our submission highlighted issues with a currently planned burn where we believe that the government is flying close to the wind in relation to state legislation. You’d think she might have at least mentioned our submission and the issues raised – even to reject our arguments.

We’ll be writing again to the Minister and to our local member of Parliament Maree Edwards to ask for a response to the substantive matters raised. And we are seeking a meeting with our regional DELWP officers to continue to advocate for the Donkey Farm Track area and to get their response to our submission.

But let’s enjoy the forest!

This Sunday, 19th April 2015 – tomorrow – there will be a bush walk in Muckleford. The walk is part of the Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests bushwalking program. We will walk through areas of interest like the firewood collection area and Dunns Reef. It’s a good 5-6km, with some uphill trekking, but fairly easy.

If you want to come on the walk, meet at the Continuing Education building in Templeton Street at 9.30am to car pool. Otherwise, meet at the Red, White and Blue Poppet Head mine in the Muckleford State Forest. Bring water bottle, snacks and lunch. We will be finished by 1pm. For any queries, call Neville Cooper on 0401 319 659.

The Dunns Reef area is scheduled for a burn in Autumn 2016. The Fire Operations Plan designates 257.6ha (CAS 011) to be burnt for fuel reduction defining the objective as “to 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’. The way in which ecological resilience will be achieved by these burns has never been explained by DELWP (or its predecessor organisations DEPI, DSE etc). We don’t know which areas DELWP intends to ‘treat’ but they did put a sketch plan on the table a couple of years ago. There are also some designated Special Protection Areas within the Dunns Reef area, it adjoins the Muckleford Conservation Reserve and appears to be part of the Phascogale (Tuan) Priority Area (like the Donkey Farm Track area) based on Phascogale surveys conducted over many years by the Department.

 

 

If you were a tuan, would you vote for burning?

The Maldon Historic Reserve is a Tuan (Brush-tailed Phascogale) Priority Area. Tuans use hollows in the base of trees if there are no higher hollows – and there are very few in this area. Tuans are listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, so our government has a responsibility to protect this species.

For years the Victorian Environment Department (under many different names) has conducted regular surveys of Tuan in the Muckleford Forest, with one transect following the western edge of this proposed burn. The department’s data tells us that this area is a stronghold for Tuan.

Brush-tailed Phascogale - or Tuan (Image:  www.bird.net.au)

Brush-tailed Phascogale – or Tuan (Image:
http://www.bird.net.au)

So how do you protect Tuan when you have to burn a patch of beautiful forest to meet an unjustifiable target?

The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act Action Statement for this species indicates that there is a limited understanding of the impact of fire on Brush-Tailed Phascogale populations and its critical habitat. A recommended action is to encourage research into the effect of different fire regimes on Brush-Tailed Phascogale populations. Has any such research has been undertaken? What are the results?

From a 2013 DSE document (now DELWP), the “burn” prescriptions for Brush-tailed Phascogale are:

  • Muckleford Priority Area – no burning (The Brush-tailed Phascogale Priority Management Area covers the Muckleford NCR and the Maldon Historic Reserve and includes the CAS 010 burn area)

And for other places where there are records of the Brush-tailed Phascogale:

  • Implement a mosaic burn coverage of 20-30%
  • Protect hollow-bearing trees and stumps (coppiced trees) by rakehoe line
  • No direct ignition of large woody debris.

Of course, not only the Tuans will be impacted if this burn goes ahead – read our letter and submission to the new Minister for the Environment Lisa Neville and you will start to appreciate how our living Box-Ironbark forests are being degraded with each and every burn.

The new Victorian government might be reviewing the target, but right now they are still burning. Please say no to any more of this destructive burning.

 

No longer a safe hollow
No longer a safe hollow

Scientists speak out!

There is a wonderful submission by a group of Box-Ironbark ecologists on the LEAF blog with a full copy of their submission to the current review available there as well.

Really worth a read – and do pass on the link!

Our submission to the “Review of the hectare-based performance targets”

Below is our brief submission to the Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land being conducted by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management. It was submitted on behalf of the Muckleford Forest Friends Network, a loose alliance of individuals and groups who are concerned about the public land reserves that make up this connected group of forests that stretch from Newstead to Maldon.

Phascogale (Museum of Victoria image)

Phascogale (Museum of Victoria image)

13 March 2015

Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Department of Justice & Regulation, GPO Box 4356, Melbourne VIC 3001

Dear Sir/Madam

Submission to: Review of performance targets for bushfire fuel management on public land

This submission is made on behalf of a network of individuals and several local groups that live near the Muckleford Forest in Central Victoria. This Forest comprises the Muckleford State Forest, Maldon Historic Reserve and the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve.It is an important remnant Box-Ironbark forest that stretches between Newstead and Maldon and connects a number of private property bushland areas.

This group formed as result of concerns about the hectare-based target established by the Bushfires Royal Commission and we have been active contributors to Fire Operations Planning in this district as well as to broader consultations on the proposed risk landscapes approach. We have also been liaising with other groups across the state that share our concerns and have presented our views publicly. WE have tried to take a positive and proactive approach, and are currently engaged in submitting data on significant species in the Muckleford Forest to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas. Some members of the network have been documenting important local species for many years and have a wealth of knowledge.

Target-based approach

Our experience with the target-based approach is that:

  • Large areas zoned Landscape Management Zone have been burnt in the Muckleford Forest to meet the target, and further areas are proposed for this autumn, autumn 2016 and beyond
  • The zoning “Landscape Management Zone” indicates that these areas are NOT designated as contributing to strategic risk-reduction
  • The size of the prescribed burns and the available departmental resources has meant that the burns were NOT conducted so as to meet the requirements under the Code nor the FOP
  • The objectives for the Landscape Management Zone are typically expressed as: “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” – the planned burns based on hectare targets are not able to achieve this objective. A mosaic burn was not possible in the last large-scale burn in the southern part of the Muckleford Forest according to DSE/DEPI officers in charge and it was certainly not achieved.
  • The prescriptions designed to protect significant species such as the Brush-Tailed Phascogale were not implemented, in fact no attempt was made to apply this prescription despite the fact that this forest is a known stronghold for this FFG species.
  • The burn plans – that is how the burn will be implemented – are secret documents, despite the fact that we and many other people have contributed information in relation to these burns, we are never allowed to see the burn plan nor the post-burn review.

To sum up, we are completely dissatisfied with the hectare-based targets. We think that the way they are being used is damaging the Muckleford Forest, and no doubt many other places across Victoria.

Risk-based approach

First, the concept of a risk-based approach is a good one. But it must focus on the range of ways that need to be used to reduce risk, not just on fuel reduction.

We have participated in the consultations on the “risk landscapes” approach and consider that it is a step in the right direction. The development of computer modelling of bushfire behaviour for example could be of great value, as is the identification of significant ecological areas, although the work on the latter is still based on a significant paucity of data. The “risk landscapes” approach has some serious limitations:

  • the vast size of the “risk landscape” – in our case from Brunswick to Bendigo – which means it is not sensitised to the variety of landscapes, vegetation types and patterns nor to their ecological needs for fire or not (the Box Ironbark forest is not reliant of fire for regeneration for example)
  • the limited time and resources that have gone into these projects has limited to the ability of the dedicated teams to produce an effective outcome.

The focus on fuel distorts reality. Fuel does not cause fires – mostly it is people who do. Most fires are caused by humans – accidently, carelessly or sometimes deliberately. Tackling the cause requires education and awareness, and probably more enforcement. And while people are misled into believing that “forest fuel” is the problem, real risk-awareness and effective mitigation across our communities will not be possible.

The other aspect of a risk-based approach is “risk to what”. We think that the risks to be considered are is more than just risk to humans, although we agree that human life is precious. The pleasures of living in rural areas derives from our environment and our communities. A risk-based approach needs to consider:

  • human life
  • critical infrastructure
  • the natural environment and other living species – on public and private land
  • our towns, villages and productive farming lands.

Managing for ecological resilience

Today our forests are small remnants. They are at risk in this area from grass fires on private land. They are also at risk because of past land management practices.

We would advocate for forest recovery plans – to build the resilience of forests like the Muckleford Forest. Fire may be part of a land management practice designed to recover ecological resilience in some forests, but this requires more knowledge and a different approach to the application of fire than has been delivered by the destructive hectare-based targets.

We hope that this important review will resultant in an immediate moratorium on Landscape Management Zone burns in this area and across the Box-Ironbark forests. Instead, let’s focus on risk-reduction and ecological resilience.

Burning news

More rain means burns will start in central Victoria

The ABC reported today that the Bendigo regional office of the Department of the Environment, Land, Water and Planning is hoping for more rain so that their prescribed burning can start – the 5% target is still driving burning across Victoria! See below the photo for what was reported.

What has happened to the risk-based approach promised by the Department and the government?

In a recent letter (27.2.2015) to Environment East Gippsland, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville said:

Lisa Neville letter extract (27.2.2015)

What does this mean? With a burn scheduled for Donkey Farm Track in the Maldon Historic Reserve this autumn, and many questions as yet unanswered, we’ll be on the email to Paul Bates, DELWP straight away.  The extraordinary lack of biodiversity data is of serious concern as is the idea of continuing with burns to meet a target that is currently under review and that demonstrably is not focused on reducing risk to human life or assets.

Control burn ignited

(From the ABC)

Authorities say conditions remain too dry for crews to start their autumn fuel reduction work in central Victoria.

Environment Department staff are hoping to do about 40 burns in the Murray Goldfields region before cooler and wetter weather arrives.

However, district manager Paul Bates said more rain was needed before crews could get to work.

“So conditions are still dry but we look at soil dryness as a measure or one of the reasons why we’d start burning in autumn,” he said.

“What we’re waiting for now is some follow-up rain to take place. We need about 20-30mm of rain just to provide a bit more moisture into the forest and once we get that we’d be able to start burning.

“As I say, if we get 20-30mm of rain it’ll bring us into a position where we could start burning.”

(Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-02/hope-for-more-rain-before-autumn-fuel-reduction/6273116)

Our submission

Here is the simple submission we have put in on the draft 2014-17 Fire Operations Plan for our region. Please look at the map – scary!

Thanks to all of those who reviewed and agreed to support this submission. Janet Barker has put in a wonderful submission on the Muckleford too and has allowed me to include it on this blog.

31 August 2014

Program Manager Planned Burning and Roading PO Box 905 Mildura VIC 3502 loddonmallee.plannedburning@depi.vic.gov.au

Dear Program Manager,

Submission on the Fire Operation Plan 2014-2017 Murray Goldfields Region – Muckleford Forest & Maldon Historic Reserve

This submission is being made on behalf of a network of people and organisations located near the Muckleford Forest in Green Gully, Muckleford and Newstead. We value these forests as important remnants of the forests that once covered more of our area and as places where we walk to enjoy the landscape, history and nature. Many of us also are involved in the care of parts of the forests and in studying and recording its biodiversity.

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.

Forest cover map

Our position on the proposed burns is basically the same as in our previous submissions. In particular:

  • the Muckleford Forest needs a ‘recovery plan’ not a burn plan – our 2013 submission addressed this in detail
  • these large landscape scale burns are damaging these forests – they are not assisting in ecological resilience and forest regeneration as it claimed by DEPI to be part of their purpose
  • fire is not essential for the regeneration of these forests as scientific studies have demonstrated
  • we acknowledge that fire may have a place in a forest recovery plan, however this is not what DEPI is doing – these large-scale burns are simply to achieve the State government’s 5% target – a target that has been repeatedly rejected by Neil Comrie in his role as Bushfire Royal Commission Implementation Monitor
  • we want to see a reconsideration of these proposed large-scale burns based on the new ‘risk-based’ approach that DEPI has developed, and that is expected to be released soon.

The map below show the fire history – wildfires and prescribed burns – along with the 4 proposed burns (outlined in black). If all these burns proceed, virtually all of the Muckleford Forest will have been burnt in the last 20-30 years. This is far too frequently to allow for effective recovery and regeneration. And our forests are a valuable asset that warrants protection.

  • MGFCAS 010 – Donkey Farm Track 188.4 ha – Autumn 2015
  • MGFCAS 011 – 257.6 ha – Dunns Reef – Autumn 2016
  • MGFCAS 025 – 493.3 ha – Gower-Cemetery Road – Spring 2016 (this is not “previously approved” as shown in the FOP document)
  • MGFCAS 051 – 160.8 – Goughs Range – Autumn 2016

Map page2

We have already submitted information on a number of species of concern in two of these burns – CAS 010 Donkey Farm Track and CAS 011 Dunns Reef; this information was sent to Scott Falconer in April 2014 and is attached again. We continue to be concerned that many flora and fauna records are not yet in the DEPI database, and that the Phascogale (Tuan) records collected by Peter Johnston (DEPI) over many years are only now being entered into the database.

As people who know these forests, we would like to have the opportunity to be consulted about the design and implementation of each of these proposed burns so that we can bring our local knowledge into this process.

Yours sincerely

Ms Chris Johnston: On behalf of a number of local residents and groups