News from the Alps #34 | Summer – Autumn 2007

People working together for the Australian Alps

Australian Alps national parks

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Welcome

coverno34… if you’re connected in any way with the Australian Alps, this summer-autumn issue of news from the alps makes good reading.

Climate change continues to be the favourite subject, popping up in many stories, but that’s no surprise: it’s out in the public arena, it is impacting on the alps and it’s not going to go away. If you only have ten minutes to read this issue, be sure to take a look at our cover story where Dick Williams explores how fire, climate change and the alps are linked, and how we’d best go about getting up to speed.

Since the last issue, I’ve spent seven weeks in South America , and seven more on fire duty. It’s been a busy time for everyone and yet the alps program seems to have a momentum of its own. We’re still on track and, in particular, looking forward to the 21st birthday celebrations planned for early June.

Be sure to glance through the usual column full of news – around the alps

– and there are a few other stories on indigenous culture, weed control, wild dogs, and frogs.

And, please, if you have a story to tell in the next issue, give me a call or email me. (be assured that no-one is burdened with writing articles.)

Happy reading.

Gill Anderson program manager and editor

A big thankyou for those who have given their time for interviews and provided images. Without this support News from the Alps would not be possible.

Fire – a new age

Sky crane operating during Victorian fires 2006

Sky crane operating during Victorian fires 2006

If Dick Williams was limited to one statement about the management of fire in the alps it would be – “One thing is for sure, simplistic solutions aren’t sound.” (And if we let him have one more,) “We moved into a flammable landscape. Fires are part of the furniture and sometimes they’re going to be big, hot and nasty.”

As Senior Principal Research Scientist with the CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Dick’s perspective is based on 25 years of immersion in alpine and fire ecology. While he has no hands-on role in the day-to-day management of the alpine landscape he is very aware of what’s involved. And it’s from this viewpoint that he can appreciate the range of skills and knowledge needed to successfully manage these landscapes.

This makes him a great resource when you’re trying to find answers to questions like; Is the 2002-03 ‘big’ fire season followed by another in 2006-07 a random occurrence, or are we likely to see this emerge as a pattern? Are fires now burning hotter at night? And how are we to deal with climate change?

Dick does not dispute that climate change is taking place. “It’s not that it might occur – it’s happening all over the world as air and sea temperatures rise. And it’s therefore likely that an increase in average temperature will drive an increase in the number of extreme days -more really hot days; longer, more intense or more frequent dry spells; more nights that are warmer”.

And in Australia the elevated temperature scenario has profound implications for fire weather – it will bring an increase in the frequency of those ‘blow-up’ days that are conducive to big hot fires. “We all know these days – they are the hot ones, with strong northerly winds, and low humidity”

Temperature may be an important driver, but there will be others, among them humidity. “Atmospheric humidity will have an impact on the probability of ignition and the size of the flames.” Humidity is also linked to another key fire factor – fuel – which could be looked at in two ways: how much is there and how dry is it?

“It may be, that the main driver of climate change, increases in CO2 in the air, will lead to higher productivity and greater biomass, that is, more growth. Higher temperatures may also mean higher productivity than has been seen historically in some places -such as the alpine heaths and grasslands. Or alternatively, if annual rainfall decreases, as some climate change models predict for south eastern Australia, then biomass production may be less.”

Whatever the vegetation mass, it will ultimately die, possibly building up fuel reserves more quickly through more frequent events such as drought or storms, and this greater stockpile may be able to dry out more quickly than in the past. “Think of this fuel as a bale of hay. If you stand there, sprinkling it with a hose, the moment you stop it begins to dry. It’s only flammable below a certain moisture level. If you take the hose off it for long enough, it will dry enough to achieve this critical level. And the rate at which it dries will increase if the days and the nights are hotter.”

There are a great many variables to consider, and what is certain is that nothing is certain. “We need to be aware of the possible scenarios. The events of the past two to four years may well be telling us that things are likely to get worse. If so, fire will become harder to manage, and harder to suppress. We need to get smarter.”

At this point it’s worth mentioning that it seems to be human nature to run around and try to find something to blame when things aren’t looking too good. “Simplistic blaming is counter-productive and is sending us backwards. We need to gather around the table in a genuine spirit of enquiry. No-one should come with a single barrow to push, and axe to grind or a finger to point.”

What, in this seemingly bleak picture is to be discussed? Apparently a great deal. “We have no off-the-shelf solutions but we do know what needs to be considered. So we need input from those who’ve worked with fire, and input from those who have worked with plants and animals. We know what’s to be tweaked, even if we don’t know yet by how much. It’s also a case of hedging your bets, identifying and implementing actions that may lower a risk. But we also need to know at what cost.”

Life, property, the natural environment – all these are in the equation and are part of the complicated trade-off that is fire management. And each scenario will be different given the many variables involved.“It’s really complicated.”

And does he have a message for the people on the ground in the overalls, and those in the fire control centres? -“Well, they are likely to be doing more of this in the future. And they make an outstanding contribution – not just from the point of managing individual fires, but to how we all learn to understand fire – how it behaves in the landscape, and how the landscape responds to fire. It’s getting harder, and there is almost certainly no magic, simple solution, but that’s also no reason not to try. And part of the trying means continually monitoring and reflecting on both the effectiveness and impacts of our actions and decisions. Therein lies wisdom, and knowledge that we can transmit across generations.”

Around the Alps

News, big or small on Alps-based projects, people and events

Dave Burton reporting from Victoria’s far east – Snowy River and Alpine (Tingaringy area) national parks

Protecting local communities, strategic widening of roads like Yalmy Road

Protecting local communities, strategic widening of roads like Yalmy Road

This summer was dominated by the fires, with staff out on active deployments over a three months from Casterton in Victoria’s south west through to Boulder Creek in the east.

Given the hours and resources devoted to the fires, not surprisingly there were fewer other goings-on to report.

Post fires, there has been some fire contingency work carried out as part of a statewide plan to protect local communities. Narrow roads, such as Yalmy Road in the Snowy River National Park, have been treated to some strategic widening so that we’re prepared for the long term.” Fire or no fire, dealing with weeds remains an ongoing maintenance task.

At the moment we’re looking to source and trial equipment which lets us spray where no vehicle access is possible. Ideally, an operator equipped with a back pack of concentrate will lay out a few hundred meters of hose feeding out of a nearby water source. We hope to be able to go where no-one has gone before…to spray weeds that is.

And in people news, Doug Thompson has joined us as Indigenous Field Services Officer. Based at Orbost he’s not only involved in maintenance, but also in monitoring and survey work on indigenous cultural sites. He’s also liaising with Elders of the local peoples – the Gunnai-Kurnai and the Bidawal.

Peter (Jack) Jacobs covering Victoria’s alpine district, spanning the Upper Murray, Alpine and Mount Buffalo national parks

The Hermit Mountain fire crossing from Victoria into New South Wales.

The Hermit Mountain fire crossing from Victoria into New South Wales.

For anyone not up with the extent of the 2006-07 fire season, Peter describes it pretty well – “1.1 million hectares were burnt; it was the second mega fire in four years (the last was in the summer of 2002-03); a third of the burnt area was within the Alpine and Mount Buffalo parks; at Mount Buffalo some areas were burnt again, and in the Alpine National Park new areas were burnt along with 130,000 ‘re-burn’ hectares; post fire storm damage affected landscapes made fragile by fire; and staff were tied up from the end of November through to mid January. But above everything, is the extraordinary efforts made by people during that period.”

And now it’s time for post fire recovery. Peter believes “Fire is one thing; fire recovery is bigger. Rehabilitation and recovery mode is in some ways more stressful. People are tired, they’ve been in difficult situations, but despite this they’re being asked to get back to it with virtually no rest. Things are on our tail and one of the biggest challenges is to give staff the opportunity to recover themselves.”

That said, assisting communities and the parks to recover is important. “Once the fire suppression phase was over we turned almost immediately to rehabilitation, dealing with any disturbances – bulldozer lines, fences, water supplies, re-opening the parks – and through a great deal effort this is starting to draw to an end.”

The next phase is recovery, for which a plan is being drawn up which brings everything together – assets, cultural heritage, tourism, forestry, soil and water catchments, pests and weeds. “Since the 2002-03 fires we and the community know better how to approach this. One important aspect of this has been involvement with the Victorian Alps Indigenous Reference Group who’ve been providing recommendations on how best to deal with the indigenous cultural areas which have been affected.”

The three quarter year review just past has shown to what extent the usual programs have been disrupted – many need to be re-prioritised and reviewed. For example the rebuilding of Roper’s Hut (in conjunction with the Victorian High Country Huts Association) burnt in the previous fires has been deferred till after winter, though materials will likely be delivered to site using over-snow vehicles based at Falls Creek.

Following the destruction by fire of the Cresta Valley Lodge at Mount Buffalo, the operators of both it and the Mount Buffalo Chalet made the decision not to re-open along with the park in early January. A review is currently underway with the support of a newly formed community reference group, to look at commercial opportunities at Mount Buffalo.

Recommendations will be presented to the State Government in June.

And there’s been a lot happening people-wise since the last issue of news from the alps – Peter Jenkins (ex East Region Visitor Services planner) has a new position as Sustainable Practices Co-ordinator for the whole of the Victoria, still based in Bright and Jen Lightfoot (ex ranger Omeo) has a new position as a finance officer based in Bairnsdale. Mike Dower and Paula Tumino, both rangers based at Omeo, were married late last year and Cath Kent, Ranger in Charge Bogong Unit at Mt Beauty had a baby boy in October and Mount Buffalo ranger Darin Lynch and his wife had a girl in late November.

Andy Gillham reporting from Baw Baw National Park in the south west corner of the Victorian section of the alps

The Friends of Baw Baw at work on the Australian Alps Walking Track

The Friends of Baw Baw at work on the Australian Alps Walking Track

We started dealing with the summer fires on December 1st and carried on for the next 69 days. The fires were bad, affecting 1,300 hectares or 10% of the Baw Baw National Park (13,530 ha) but we were able to hold them on the east side of the Thomson River which effectively protected the more significant part of the Park.

However we did lose our only vehicle-based camping ground at Aberfeldy River which was totally destroyed. This, plus the ongoing risk of fire meant that the Park was closed for most of the summer. Post-fire rehabilitation work followed both in the park and in the adjoining Walhalla Historic Area.

We’ve been fixing tracks, dealing with erosion, assessing the risk posed by fire-affected trees and assisting the rangers at Heyfield – all of which will keep us busy until Easter.

Rebuilding the Aberfeldy River camping ground will likely take several years, achieved with funding from an insurance claim.

It has opened opportunities to redesign some aspects of the site – to offer more camping, to get the cars out of sight, put in a better toilet system, and have less impact on the environment.

Post fires, extensive works were carried out on the Australian Alps Walking track from Walhalla. Drains were cleaned and scrub was cut back along the 16 kilometre section of track with the support of 100 volunteer hours in conjunction with the Strzelecki Bushwalking Club. On the Labour Day weekend, Friends of Baw Baw National Park celebrated the centenary of the Walhalla to Warburton Walking Track and what some refer to as the birth of bushwalking in Victoria. The track was constructed in 1901 and officially opened in 1907 with part of the original route now forming a section of the Australian Alps Walking Track. The historic photographs and memorabilia gathered for the interpretive display is likely to become a permanent exhibit in the future.

We’re also in our final year of the Willow control program with 925 willows dead at 278 different locations and thanks to 1,800 volunteer hours. And finally, Baw Baw farewells Peter Kershaw, 27 years with Parks Victoria and in the last decade, Ranger in Charge Latrobe, an area which includes Baw Baw National Park. Someone with his depth of experience and on-the-ground wisdom will be missed – he’s wished all the best at Vic Roads.

Stuart Cohen Kosciuszko and Brindabella National Parks

There has been a marked difference between the 2002-03 fires and those this summer; much of it due to kinder weather conditions, but also the speed with which fire fighters were able to respond. “We had to deal with more than 60 fires this season, many of which were in remote areas and started by lightening strikes.

“Most were kept to a few hectares because of our rapid response – we hit them fast and we hit them hard, winching in crews by helicopters. Most of all, we didn’t have to deal with the cycles of vicious weather we’d experienced in 2002-03. This time we had time to get to the fires and contain them.”

Fire may have disrupted many of the scheduled works, but one project did get underway during summer and is still going – the world class toilet facility at Rawson’s Pass. “To withstand the rigors which come from being just below the summit of Kosciuszko, it’s being built into the mountain and it will make use of the latest low impact technologies.”

The Tumut Region Visitor Centre has again taken out the Canberra and Capital Region Tourism Awards 2006 in the category of General Tourism Services thanks to the high standards of customer service on offer, the hard work and dedication of the staff. “This recognises excellent customer service, products, facilities, something the Tumut Region Visitor Centre does very well: it not only provides a full range of information services; has a quality retail section with re-gional souvenir lines, local books, maps and gifts; a regional interpretation display area; and one of the biggest range of tourism brochures available in Australia.”

The tenth birthday for both the Snowy Region Visitor Centre in Jindabyne, and the Kosciuszko Education Centre was celebrated over the Australia Day weekend. The visitor centre has hosted close to 1.9 million visitors since it opened in 1997 – a figure which speaks volumes about its relevance and usefulness as a centre for promotion of the Snowy Mountains Region. Similarly, the Kosciuszko Education Centre has also played a key role in educating students (almost 113,000 of them) about the park, its environment and its role as the largest park in New South Wales. Four community service announcements have been pro-duced for television showing just how fantastic Kosciuszko National Park is looking despite the cycle of fire.

“They’re on air now in all three states showing why people should come along to go skiing, kayaking, and bushwalking. And from a ‘people’ perspective, Dean Freeman and Vicki Parsley both based at various times at Tumut, have had a baby girl (Vicki’s first and Dean’s third), with the wonderfully melodic name Nyarru (honey in Wiradjuri) Nylee (sea shells from the coastal mobs).

Odile Arman providing an ACT perspective centred on Namadgi National Park and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

We’ve been fortunate not to be affected by fire within the Park this season, though there were fires adjacent to Namadgi. We did send staff to support operations in Victoria and New South Wales, and this, along with maintaining a state of high fire readiness, did stretch resources.

As part of being prepared, two new fire tracks were constructed, one at Burnt Hill and the other at Grassy Creek. These were a direct response to what was learnt from the 2002-03 fires. We are continuing to improve our fire capability by constructing a dam and sinking a bore at Grassy Creek. And the Bush Fire Operations Plan for 2007-08 continues to develop, earmarking other projects including hazard reduction burns and other fire fuel management activities.

Two ranger residences lost during the 2002-03 fires have been constructed, designed with a six star energy rating, incorporating as many sustainable design features as possible. Located at Bendora Dam and at the Namadgi Visitor Centre, they offer improved passive security to both the dam and the centre. Funding for the houses was provided through bush fire insurance as well as a contribution from the ACT Government’s Sustainable Infrastructure Fund whose aim is to increase sustainable outcomes in new government buildings. (For more information about the project, contact Odile, odile.arman@act.gov.au)

In other works, the visitor centre display at Riverview was completed late last year (It’s worth taking a look at if you’re in the area), and construction at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve on the new Nature Recovery Centre has begun.

Less than an hour out of Canberra, the new centre will be a unique outdoor development with high quality exhibits, a scenic path system, opportunities for visitor education, amenities and the chance to be exposed to wildlife in it’s natural setting.

Within the protected confines of the Reserve visitors will see a range of local birds, reptiles, insects as well as echidnas, platypus, koalas and the endangered Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. Completion is expected in early 2008.

Restoration of the peat bogs continues with funding support from the National Heritage Trust’s National Action Plan as well as the Territory’s electricity and water provider ACTEW. Technical support has been provided from interested parties from across the alps agencies with on-the-ground work being carried out by parks staff, volunteers and indigenous support from The Community Development Employment Program (CDEP). Part of this work has been the ongoing photographic monitoring to assess progress of methods use to divert and disperse water over larger areas, and shade cloth to reduce the impact of UV radiation – no definitive results yet as it’s still early days.

And in people news: Continuing the Alps baby report, Marie Gilbert who is based at Tidbinbilla and is a member of the Community Relations Group is taking maternity leave. Monica Muranyi has returned to Tidbinbilla after a year working in Franz Joseph National Park in New Zealand and taken on the convenorship of the Community Relations Working Group; Russell Watkinson is the new Director of Parks, Conservation and Lands; and, Hilton Taylor, previously Director of Conservation and Land Management has left ACT Government to take up a position as Assistant Secretary in the National Resource Management Team of the Department of Environment Water Resources.

Bruce Leaver gives the Department of the Environment and Water Resources perspective

The assessment phase of the Australian Alps National Parks for potential National Heritage values is virtually complete. Undertaken by the Australian Heritage Council assisted by the Department’s Heritage Division, it will then be presented to the Minister, The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, for National Heritage listing consideration.

And an initiative – National Landscapes – announced late last year by the Federal Tourism Minister, the Hon Fran Bailey, is gathering momentum. Its aim is to identify Australia’s top 15-20 superlative experiences for national and international marketing under the Brand Australia program.

Managed by Tourism Australia in collaboration with Parks Australia, guided by a Reference Committee whose membership includes the Australian Tourism Export Council and the Tourism and Transport Forum, Indigenous Tourism Australia and representatives from protected area management and tourism education bodies.

The first National Landscape identified is the Red Centre. Other candidates include the Flinders Ranges, the Great Ocean Road, the Kakadu Region, the World Heritage rainforests of the NSW-Qld border area, the Ningaloo – Karijini region of WA and the Australian Alps.

In terms of the alps, the Reference Committee has decided to hold a scoping work-shop at Albury in May. For further information contact Bruce: bruce.leaver@environment.gov.au

Program update – works around the Alps

Cultural Heritage

Indigenous Interpretation Training and Employment Program Bob Jones and John Pastorelli (Ochre Training)have run 3 interpretation training camps (Mt Buffalo, Yarrangobilly Caves and Namadgi) for a number of Indigenous rangers and trainees from across the agencies.

Remembering Lost Places this publication concentrating predominately on historic hut and mine sites lost during the 2003 fires has been printed and available via Tabletop Press ($14.95) or myself (for a lot less!).

Natural Heritage

Threatened Frog Research Rob Pletsch is leading a team to look at the distribution and implications of the amphibian chytrid fungus in the Australian Alps. A final report is due shortly.

Dogs In Space In conjunction with PV, Andrew Claridge (NSW) is undertaking placement of GPS collars on wild dogs to track their movements in remote eastern areas of the ANP. Conclusions drawn about wild dog spatial ecology will improve long term understanding and management. Unfortunately only a small number of collars have so far been deployed.

Australian Alps Rehabilitation Manual Roger Good has compiled a very comprehensive alpine ecological rehabilitation manual. The Manual has now been printed, distributed to all park offices and on the web. Contact me if you would like a hard copy.

Alps Invaders Sainty and Associates have completed the booklet and it is now available; copies will be distributed shortly to the various sponsors (Alpine Resorts, Shires and CMAs) and to park offices. The booklet will also be for sale via our distributor Tabletop Press for around $8.50 rrp.

Community Relations and Recreation and Facilities

Style Guide a framework to guide the design of Australian Alps publications and signs is being developed by Cath Renwick and Nuttshell Design in conjunction with the Community Relations Working Group.

Information / Fact Sheet series – a user friendly summary of ‘everything you need to know’ about a range of Alps wide topics and research is being developed this year (first in series – Wild Dogs). Once again by Cath Renwick and Nuttshell Design in conjunction with the Natural Heritage and Community Relations working groups.

AAWT Message Stick Celebration Walk – unfortunately this project has had to be postponed due to the Victorian fires and subsequent closure of the southern sections of the AAWT; from Stronachs (western end Baw Baw plateau) to Mt Hotham.

Explore – Touring Guide to the Australian Alps Alps staff have undertaken a review of the popular but now out of print Guide. Negotiations to reprint continue with New Holland Press, the publishers who first printed the Guide in 1998.

ABC stories – the ABC have contracted Richard Snashall to produce the stories for radio and TV. Richard has produced a series of ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ stories that can be heard on regional ABC, viewed on ABC digital 2 or downloaded from the ABC web site…have a look.

CSA watch out for the new Community Service Announcements now being run on a range of TV stations.

AAWT interpretive/promotional signs interpretive signs have been developed for up to 9 key visitor nodes with vehicle access along the Alps Track. The AAWT signs will be used to highlight Aboriginal heritage and custodianship, the ‘One Park’ concept and site specific values and/or walks along the Alps track. After some minor tweaking the signs will be produced and installed this year.

One Park ‘Welcome to Country’ entry signs a scoping paper was produced last year with entry sign design options to suit a range of scenarios – from an agency commitment to promote the Australian Alps as ‘one park’ through to more discrete node signs. The paper will go to the Heads of Agencies for advice on how to move forward with this ambitious and exciting project.

Integrated Landscape Management

Science / Management Forum – the 2nd joint IUCN/WCPA and Australian Alps (Climate Change) Workshop will be held at Falls Creek 16 -18 April 2007. A number of eminent climate change scientists have agreed to present, including Dr Graeme Pearman; this is certainly an Alps workshop not to be missed.

Fire History Phil Zylstra’s (NSW) long awaited fire history of the Australian Alps has been printed and distributed to a wide range of staff and interested stakeholders, including fire researchers and organisations. It is also now on the web.

IUCN/WCPA Connectivity Conservation Management Workshop approximately 45 delegates from around the world gathered at Papallacta, Ecuador to discuss experiences and lessons learned in cross border conservation.

4 days in Ecuador

Bottom: Highland Quechua indians singing to workshop participants (top) at their village ecotourism project.

Bottom: Highland Quechua indians singing to workshop participants (top) at their village ecotourism project.

If you sometimes think looking after the Alps gets bogged down in red tape, spare a thought for those places in the world where it’s not just a jolly state border which has been drawn across a continuous ecosystem. Sometimes the division is between two countries, and sometimes these lines are fronts for conflict.

The recent workshop held in Ecuador by World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Mountains Biome, aimed to look at this and a host of other aspects affecting large scale conservation – in this case on a continental scale.

Forty-five participants gathered at Papallacta near Quito (elevation 3,220 metres and the second highest capital in the world), from the United States and Canada, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Costa Rica, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and a host of others as well as a contingent from Australia – Graeme Worboys (IUCN WCPA Vice Chair Mountains Biome), Rod Atkins, Ian Pulsford, Peter Jacobs and Gill Anderson. Groups were formed and the work began.

Gill facilitated the group which looked at strategic manage-ment – the prospect of working with governments, foundations and NGOs and all the other necessary players, across boundaries to achieve continental-scale connectivity conservation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Australian Alps Liaison Committee model was useful, with some of the same themes emerging as tools.

Among them: to develop strong leadership and commit-ment, setting direction and achievable action; to engage the support of all the necessary players and their expertise; and to keep everyone in the loop through good communication. As Gill puts it, “People have to be part of what you’re trying to achieve. Any useful model for connectivity needs to be built from the ground up but with strong leadership and support from government ”.

A practical book is being generated by the workshop – a how-to-manage large scale connectivity conservation guide for managers, and for capacity building generally for conservation at this scale.

Mountains provide freshwater to more than half of humanity and are major centres of global biological and cultural diversity and sources of inspiration and spirituality. Maintaining the integrity of mountain ecosystems is vital for the well-being of current and future generations.

Yet mountains have low resilience and high vulnerability, and are therefore under serious threat from land transformation, infrastructure development, environmental degradation and climate change. The maintenance and restoration of ecosystem integrity requires landscape-scale conservation.

This can be achieved through systems of core protected areas that are functionally linked and buffered in ways that maintain ecosystem processes and allow species to survive and move, thus ensuring that populations are viable and that ecosystems and people are able to adapt to land transformation and climate change.

We call this proactive, holistic, and long-term approach connectivity conservation.

Taken from the Papallacta Declaration, Ecuador, November 2006

site visit recommended www.mtnforum.org/

Always on the look out for great mountain resources and contacts, editor Gill Anderson came across this one during the work-shop in Ecuador. The Australian Alps Liaison Committee is now a member of Mountain Forum, joining over 300 other organisa-tions from roughly 60 countries, and adding it’s knowledge to that being made available through the Forum’s web site – http://www.mtnforum.org/. Make a point to visit, and you’ll find a great site chock full of relevant reading and resources, which isn’t surprising when you consider the Forum’s description of itself as, “a global network of individuals and organisations concerned with the well being of mountain people, their environments and cultures.” Looks like there are a great many people out there with whom we have a lot in common…

Talking about country

newsletter34-img-5In October last year, a group of people came together as part of a new type of Alps workshop, and by its end, most will have achieved a Certificate II in Tourism (Operations). John Pastorelli (Learning Consultant) and Bob Jones (former Chief Ranger Alpine, Parks Victoria) delivered the program. John explains why this workshop was so special…

“Following the First Peoples Gathering held at Dinner Plain in 2005, a program was designed to take Aboriginal people with connections to the Alps, and train them in interpretation. Armed with these skills they’d be well equipped to promote Aboriginal culture across the Alps.”

As part of this program, the first workshop was held over three sessions – nine days in total with time between to complete the necessary assessment tasks, (yes, homework).

Crystal House, Geoffrey Murray, Euroka Gilbert, Shane Harrington, Talea Bulger, Troy Murray, Tanya Moate, Mick Douthat and Colleen Nagle all packed their gear and came camping. With input from various mentors and Elders – among them Russell Mullett, James Hackel , Rod Mason, Troy Melville, Felicity Brooke, Vicki Parsly, Dean Freeman, Uncle Vince Bulger, Yal Mambirra, Aunty Margaret Berg, Adrian Brown and Daniel Williams – the participants not only developed the skills needed to help others see the land from an Aboriginal perspective, but they developed their own con-nections with not only their own country, but those beyond. “There are different songs, dances, customs and language for each, and as you travel through the landscape it’s about respecting the country where you are.”

There were the usual special moments during the sessions, “when you’d see people picking up confidence with the realisation that they had the skills, or showed that they’d been talking to the Elders to find out more. Aboriginal culture didn’tdie out in 1788 and indigenous people are well and truly a living part of today’s culture.”

Perhaps the interpretive message says it best – Step into a world and culture which energises and enriches your relationship with the environment. Another workshop is planned for later this year – keep a look out for it.

The ejector

Rob Hunt sets an ejector in Tinderry Nature Reserve.

Rob Hunt sets an ejector in Tinderry Nature Reserve.

When you start talking about feral animal control – wild dogs, pigs, rabbits, whatever – what’s becoming obvious is, that if you want to be effective, you need to use a variety of methods.

As Rob Hunt, (Ranger, Queanbeyan) puts it, “You need access to as many control methods as is necessary. It’s all about breaking the landscape down and working out what resources will work best in each location. And the more options you have in the tool box, the better.”

“We’re focusing our research on traditional wild dog hot spots…”

One of these tools is the M-44 ejector, a device which has been in use by the US Department of Agriculture since the mid 1940s, is currently being trialed in New South Wales, having also been trialed in Victoria and Queensland.

The ejector is a baited, spring-activated device, set into the ground. When a wild dog or fox pulls upwards with sufficient force on a baited lure head, the contents of a capsule is propelled into its mouth. The New South Wales trials use 1080 mixed with sweetened condensed milk.

Rob Hunt and the team at Queanbeyan are currently collecting data to see how effective it is in the field. The first trials were non-lethal, and focussed on the housekeeping – to identify suitable bait heads, lures and placement techniques.

Now armed with a permit for 20 sites across the state, Rob has been setting ejectors with lethal capsules and collecting data, and though it’s relatively early days in trial terms, the results are encouraging. The ejector appears to be very effective at controlling wild dogs and particularly foxes with minimum impact on non-target species.

Perhaps most importantly, Rob has taken steps to ensure that the research adds to local control programs. “We’re focusing our research on traditional wild dog hot spots, places where local cooperative wild dog plans are already taking place. These cooperative wild dog plans give us a great opportunity to add additional control techniques and collect information while training up local field staff as part of the program. Ultimately the information we collect will go towards a registration package that will allow ejectors to be added to the wild dog and fox tool kit”.

Not that the ejector is a ‘silver bullet’. As Rob reminds us, “You can’t rely on one type of control for any pest species”. But it is looking like one tool no-one trying to create a wild-dog-free buffer should be without.

For more information, contact Rob Hunt: Rob.Hunt@environment.nsw.gov.au or visit the Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre’s web site www.invasiveanimals.com.

Dogs in space

newsletter34-img-9Since July last year, Andrew Claridge (Research Scientist) and Gary Saunders (Manager -Planning and Performance Unit) both from the SW National Parks and Wildlife Service have been using spaceage technology to get real information about how wild dogs move throughout the alps.

Using what Andrew describes as the most expensive wildlife tracking system of its kind in Australia, a set of collars fitted with satellite tracking technology have been used since 2004 to discover where live-caught wild dogs do roam.

“The coverage is very broad, which is important given that wild dog management is an alps-wide challenge, and our aim is to gain an alps-wide understanding.”

Stay tuned – the results will be pulled together later this year, and they may affect the way we all manage wild dogs across the alps.

A2A – aka Alps to Atherton and beyond

Now here’s a concept that makes so much sense, that as it falls into place, it will be accompanied by the satisfied sighs of the many people who’ve been working towards it for years…

It’s all about the landscape scale conservation of Australia’s Great Eastern Ranges stretching 2,800 kilometres from the Australian Alps in southern Victoria to the Atherton Tablelands and beyond in Far North Queensland.

That this strip has very significant value is not questioned. It contains three World Heritage Areas nestled in amongst dozens of national parks and reserves; its rainforests contain the greatest concentration of primitive flowering plants in world; the Ranges capture the most reliable rainfall in eastern Australia; and with over 8,250 plant species, 26% of those being endemic (and this is only a preliminary estimate), this is arguably the terrestrial equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef.

These are reasons enough, but there is one more that is immeasurably powerful. This 2,800 kilometre stretch is the only continental-scale north-south opportunity for conservation linkages over the maximum possible elevation, latitude and climate range.

Ian Pulsford (Manager – Conservation on Private Land Strategies Program, Department of Environment and Conservation) explains. “Conservation and restoration of biodiversity is a great challenge facing Australia. This can be achieved through support for a vision, and leadership by Government and the community. Establishing the Alps to Atherton conservation corridor will be a critical part of the community’s strategy to reduce the impact of climate change and other significant threats to our richest habitats for plants and animals. Other significant threats include the ongoing loss of native vegetation and spread of introduced species. While there are never guarantees, it maintains opportunities for species to move north or south, higher or lower, giving them more chance at survival than they would have elsewhere. We’re fortunate, particularly in the southern sections in Victoria, NSW and the ACT because the interconnecting links required to be conserved or restored are a relatively small areas of land, so that if we get it right, protecting this biodiversity will be achieved more efficiently and effectively.”

A great deal has already been done by catchment authorities, government agencies, land holders and the community across the three eastern states and the ACT. Now it’s time to bring this all together, to conserve, protect and restore habitats to create a 2,800 kilometre long wildlife corridor. This can be achieved through better coordination and management of knowledge, tools, science, planning and funding – to increase awareness and commitment to the implementation of connectivity conservation management across all land tenures.

The NSW Environment Trust Fund has allocated $7 million over three years to establish the A2A Initiative in NSW. A business plan, communication and community involvement strategy, and collaborative research partnerships are key strategies required to implement the program. The vision, objectives, principles and key messages for the first steps towards implementation of this ambitious and innovative program are examined. The program will investigate ways to integrate and harness the conservation benefits of a wide range of policies, partnerships and mechanisms including voluntary conservation agreements, stewardship payments, carbon credits, BioBanking, Property Vegetation Planning. It will build on lessons learned from other landscape scale conservation projects. Environment Ministers in each of the eastern states have expressed support for the concept. Discussions have commenced between State agencies to further consider the proposal.

Information about the project will soon be published on a dedicated section of the Department of Environment and Conservation web site or contact Ian Pulsford ian.pulsford@environment.nsw.gov.au, or Stuart Cohen stuart.cohen@environment.nsw.gov.au

The weeds are climbing

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) - armed with several ways of reproducing this is one weed no-one wanted to spot in snow gum woodland on the Toolong Range (Kosciuszko National Park) in 2003. Proof that weeds can be kept in check: hand pulling, herbicide and keeping an eye out for more, has this one under control.

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) – armed with several ways of reproducing this is one weed no-one wanted to spot in snow gum woodland on the Toolong Range (Kosciuszko National Park) in 2003. Proof that weeds can be kept in check: hand pulling, herbicide and keeping an eye out for more, has this one under control.

Here’s the good news – wherever they are in the world, mountains are amongst the least weedy of environments, and this offers us the opportunity to keep them that way. Now comes the not so good news…

In Australia, thanks to 2,000 alpine quadrats we are data rich. The information which has been gained from these tells us that while there are currently few exotic species (weeds) in alpine vegetation (13 species recorded in natural vegetation above 1900 m), there are a further 30 species sitting in the zone below – waiting.

As Keith McDougall from the Environment Protection and Regulation Division of the DEC puts it, “Climate change will enable more exotic species to invade natural mountain vegetation.”

Knowing your enemy has always been a good tactic, and through the DEC’s involvement with MIREN (the Mountain Invasion Research Network), altitudinal transects in Oregon, Switzerland, Australia and Chile have provided a basis from which weed progress can be monitored.

“Weeds will be moving uphill by a variety of means – vehicles, people with dirty shoes – but how the weeds reach there is irrelevant. What is important is that people on the ground keep a look out, know what they’re looking for and have the time and resources to deal with it.”

Happily, current research aims to find out more and deliver it where it can be of use. “If we know what’s going crazy in other places, we can be on the alert. Weeds don’t have any regional boundaries and there’s no point reinventing the wheel.”

For more on alpine weeds from a global perspective visit the MIREN site, www.miren.ethz.ch/

Alps Invaders is back

First published in 1998 to provide a field guide for land management staff and other alps people, Alps Invaders-Weeds of the Australian High Country is about to be released again.

As in ’98, Geoff Sainty and Associates has produced this second edition, pulling in a very impressive list of weed experts including staff from across the alps to work on the draft -check out the list inside the front cover.

“The first edition had 50 species”, explains Craig Hore (Parks Victoria Ranger) who got the project off and running after a slow start three years ago. “This time around we had about 100 new species nominated. We had to drop half of them and focus on the worst. Even then, our funding would only cover production of the book so we had to seek sponsorship to get it printed – something made possible thanks to support from alpine resort management boards, catchment management authorities, the Alpine Shire, hydro power companies and Vic Roads.” And this edition makes it very clear who has made this possible by carrying their logos on the back cover.

After the initial release and distribution to sponsors and park offices , copies will be available via Tabletop Press rrp around $8.50. For a complete list of publications visit the Australian Alps web site – www.australianalps.environment.gov.au

Buying frog time

newsletter34-img-12The latest in research focussed on frog species found in the Australian Alps continues to be pretty bleak, as Dave Hunter (Threatened Species Officer, NSW Department of Environment and Conservation) explains…

“Like many frogs along the eastern ranges of Australia, anecdotal sightings and detailed monitoring showed a decline in the frog fauna of the Alps region starting during the mid to late 1980s. In the case of the Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina), it has disappeared from more than 70 per cent of its range, and the Southern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne corroboree) together with it’s northern cousin (Pseudophryne pengilleyi ) in the ACT are both expected to be extinct in the wild within the next five years.” (Numbers of Corroboree frogs in captivity are high but, as yet, very few individuals have bred.)

Various factors were initially blamed for these declines, but researchers were mystified by the parallel decline of amphibians from pristine environments – until they identified the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Possibly introduced mid last century as part of a then routine pregnancy testing service, this pathogen is the likely cause of eight frog species becoming extinct over the last few decades from eastern Australia, along with the imminent extinction of the Southern Corroboree Frog and, according to Dave, a further 30 species which have declined to the point where they warrant listing.

Bleak as the picture is, research continues simply because information is essential to the development of successful recovery actions. “The data my colleagues from Victoria and the ACT and I have gained shows that Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) populations in the Australian Alps have up to 100 percent infection with no apparent ill affects, making this species a major reservoir host for the fungus. They also discovered that there are some areas in the landscape where the fungus has not yet colonised. This information will be valuable in developing a reintroduction strategy for the Southern Corroboree Frog, as “we’ll be able to target areas of low reservoir host abundance”. We may also be able to use disease free areas as arks – however this may only be a short-term strategy, as eventually these sites are likely to become infected. Ultimately, the fate of species like the Southern Corroboree Frog will depend on their capacity to eventually coexist with the fungus – our recovery efforts are aimed at facilitating this natural co-evolutionary process.

Where are they now

Alps people come, and alps people go. Here we keep track of some of the people who’ve been a part of the Alps Program…

newsletter34-img-14Ray Supple’s start many years ago in the mid 1970s may have been in surveying and town planning, but his interest in land management and assessment took him into the former Department of Conservation Forests and Lands’ Historic Places Section. For the past nine years, as Team Leader Heritage Strategy (Parks Victoria), he and those he’s worked with have been responsible for the management of historic places in Victoria’s parks and reserves. “Having worked our way through assessing and recording historic places, we’ve come to better understand the management requirements of the largest and most diverse collection of historic places in Victoria.”

Ray’s connection with the alps has been as convenor of the Australian Alps Cultural Heritage Working group, which deals with both indigenous and non-indigenous cultural heritage. “It’s been a fantastic experience working with people from around the Alps who value and have such strong attachments to the cultural heritage of the region. I will always value their friendship, support and generosity during my time on the CHWG.”

And now he’s off to join the Heritage Branch of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency to assess historic places in Far North Queensland, based in Cairns. Contact Ray on (07) 4046 7632

newsletter34-img-15Andy Nixon was based out of Bright in the years between 1988 and 1994. He admits, “I miss the alps for sure, and have done so for many years. Yes, they were the halcyon days but life is still sweet.” Much of that time was taken up at Mount Buffalo, but there was some time spent in the main range alps. “and most enjoyably, I worked on a number of Australian Alps Liaison Committee groups and projects.” Andy was also very aware of the great alps experience he gained while working for eight months between 1992 and 1993 in the Tongariro National Park, New Zealand.

These days Andy is Ranger in Charge at Parks Victoria, Warrandyte, though during the last ten years he’s also spent some time at the Cathedral Ranges State Park and the old National Parks Head Office. Among the highlights he lists, “the chance to increase my fire skills during the 2003 alps and interstate deployments; two trips to South Africa, the first a IUCN conference and the second a study tour on international ranger networking; also managing the 2003 International Ranger Federation 4th World Congress.” At 20 years now in the job, “bar some tedious administration process’s”, he still loves the work.

A ‘sister’ rehab guide

Rehabilitation Guidelines for the Alpine Resorts of NSW are being compiled by the Alpine Resorts Unit of DEC. Liz MacPhee was seconded from her former sites work to contribute her knowledge and coordinate a workshop with representatives of NSW ski resorts to review rehabilitation sites and generally have their say. Nghenvironmental (the same company that edited the Australian Alps manual) put the document together with most of the pictures and words contributed by Liz and various other people. It is over two years since the project started so the guidelines shouldn’t be far away now…and they will certainly compliment the Australian Alps manual.

And congratulations to Liz, she has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship and will be off on a big trip soon, principally to look at high altitude rehab techniques.