Author Archives: Barb Moss

The fires – humanity and science

This season’s bush fires have affected most people – some directly and many indirectly through personal connections or broader concerns for people, animals and the environment.  Reading Annemaree Docking’s article on her personal experiences with fire raised some memories of my past experiences with fires.  The risk of fire is escalating with the climate crisis, and we all – personally and collectively – need to decide how to respond.  And our responses, as Annemaree says, should be based on the best available evidence in these extra-ordinary times.

Our personal responses to the direct threat of fire will depend on the circumstances.  After 2009, I visited many fire-affected properties to support the recovery efforts of the landholders.  And heard many awful and amazing stories.  Before that fire, I had not fully realised how massive and overpowering such a fire could be.  After the fire, we decided that, in similar extreme conditions of ferocious hot winds blasting across the dry landscape, we would leave that morning (or night before) based on the forecast and not the imminent threat of fire.  Even though we only lived on the edge of a town, not in the forest, we did not want to take the risk. 

The Mickleham fire in 2014 may not have been as big and ferocious as the Black Saturday fire but it was big enough to spread widely across farmlands in the district and take a huge effort by fire crews and several days to quell.  18 houses were lost and – significantly – 16,000 livestock were killed.  Annemaree stayed and successfully saved her animals.  But could all the animals have been saved?  In 1978, a hot, fast-moving grass fire near Bairnsdale killed two people who were trying to save their livestock, and  I spent the following week assisting in the shooting of hundreds of badly burnt survivors of the more than 6000 sheep and cattle killed in that fire.  It is often impossible – and very risky – to stay and try to protect or move livestock in front of a fire.  But what an awful decision to have to make.

How do we – collectively – protect people and animals and assets from fire.  This is already being hotly debated with some simplistic solutions around the reduction of fuel in the forests.  To some extent, this is a problem of our own making – more and more people are moving out of cities into forested areas – very attractive places to live but also very dangerous in summer.

So do we burn – and graze and mulch and trample – the forests to reduce fuel loads?  From my readings on this, the evidence is very confusing.  Are controlled burns effective in moderating fires and making them easier to control?  Hard to imagine in extreme crown fires in forests.  But also, how much does the regular burning of forests affects the biodiversity and ecological functions of forests and even possibly increase fire risks with the regrowth? 

The Royal Commission after the 2009 Black Saturday fires recommended that 5% of crown land be burnt every year.  This 5% rule resulted in inappropriate burns in sensitive and remote country, at least in part because it was more possible to get to 5% within the verynarrow window for controllable burns in Spring and Autumn and with the limited resources available to do the burns. 

But a real concern from ecologists was about the impact of regular burns on forest environments.  Regular fire is good in some ecosystems such as grasslands and heathlands), but is disastrous in others.  For example, three fires from 2003-2013 near Mt Feathertop has wiped out a lot of species including Alpine Ash that didn’t have time to recover between burns.  And fuel reduction burns are often very hot.  There was a lot of damage in Tallarook Flora Reserve and the Cobaws (including big loss of old trees) after “controlled” burns and it will take a long time if ever for full recovery.  In some forests, there is a period of higher fuel loads as trees and shrubs come back more densely in the first phase of recovery. 

But other scientists – and popular demand from some sectors – are saying that we need to burn even more.  So lots of different opinions from people coming from different directions and in different situations.  No one rule will work in all bushland environments.  And what is the purpose of fuel reduction burns – to reduce fire intensity and spread (but with climate change and extreme weathers, how much can we really do?) or protect people and assets with more strategic burns?

One of my favorite parts of Victoria are the alpine areas.  And alpine grazing is one of those issues that come up after fires.  Annemaree deferred to “greater minds” on this topic, but I want to state my position more strongly.  As with climate change denial, inconvenient science is easily dismissed by many people with opposing interests.  Grazing has caused a lot of damage to fragile ecosystems in the alps, particularly the wonderful bogs and waterways.  From 1939, exclusion plots on the High Plains were studied to assess the long-term impacts of grazing.  Despite the evidence, it took until after fires in 2003 and a lot of polarised debate to halt alpine grazing – and there have been efforts to reintroduce grazing since then. 

“Alpine grazing reduces blazing” was a popular car sticker but where was the evidence?  In December 2002, I walked through mobs of cattle, cow dung and polluted streams around the Tawonga Huts on the High Plains.  One month later, it was all burnt.  Dick Williams and others looked at the wider evidence, and found that grazing did not stop blazing.  (Williams, R. J., Wahren, C., Bradstock, R. A., & Müller, W. J. (2006). Does alpine grazing reduce blazing? A landscape test of a widely-held hypothesis. Austral Ecology, 31(8), 925-936. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2006.01655.x.).  So fuel reduction (if any) from grazing had little effect, and I think the catchment and biodiversity values of the alpine areas are a far more important consideration, especially with the serious impacts predicted for climate change on alpine ecosystems and species.  I wouldn’t want to go back to that grazing debate again in this world of populist politics rather than earlier evidence-based decision making that finally excluded grazing in the alps.

One final concern.  After 2009, many areas of the central highland forests were logged before “dead” or damaged trees were no longer useful as timber.  Instead of allowing natural recovery from the surviving plants and the seed bank released after the fire, the ground was disturbed by machinery and by the removal of a significant component of the habitat – the large trees.  Work by David Lindenmayer and others have shown that there are many losses after two successive major disturbances, with increased runoff from disturbed ground, loss of soil nutrients, and impacts on the recovery of plants and animals (including some significant threatened species).  Conservation groups are trying to persuade the government to halt logging in forests burnt this season.  But on March 1st …. Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs

I am very thankful that this summer has ended with a whimper, but we need to be alert and support all efforts to protect our bushland environments against hasty, ill-informed and populist policies.

Peter Mitchell

4th March 2020

2019 in Review – Climate Protests and You

2019 has been a bleak year with the worsening climate crisis and proof that we are also facing a major extinction crisis comparable with the great extinction episodes of the distant past.  And we have already begun a very frightening fire season.

“Climate change is super-charging our natural disaster risks. I wish we were wrong, but we’re not.” – former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, Greg Mullins.

It has also been a bleak year due to the failure of politicians in Australia and around the world to even acknowledge the crisis we are in.  The federal election set the worst agenda we could have had. 

But it has also been a great year for people – particularly young people – strongly voicing their concerns about the future.  On Friday 20th September more than 100,000 people joined the Climate Strike in Melbourne and hundreds of thousands around the world. 

The wonderful thing about the Strike is that it was led by young students – with flair and enthusiasm.  Just look at the photos here. As several signs pointed out, they were too young to vote for their future (some of the kids led chants with voices that hadn’t broken).  But the decisions made by todays failing leaders will have awful consequences for them, not the lucky generations of parents and grandparents.  BEAM was there.  But, as a grandparent and after seeing all those great young people, I had mixed feelings of exhilaration and deep grief for them all.  We in Australia have been the luckiest generation there ever has been – and probably ever will be.  We owe them something – and not just spend the inheritance as we have been doing.

Photos:  Melbourne September 20 #ClimateStrike photos_credit: Julian Meehan

Since then, Extinction Rebellion has been a strong voice for action on climate, run by young people – and many older supporters – across the world  The protesters are demanding governments tell the truth about the climate and ecological crises we are now in, act now and listen to their citizens on climate and ecological justice. 

Sadly – and predictably given the current political climate among both major parties – the response to all this has been abuse and threats.  Can’t they see that they are the extremists trying to shut down democracy rather than listening to the voices of science and the voices of people around the world.  

Many people feel very strongly about this.  500 people went on hunger strikes around the world on 19th November, including Daniel Bleakley in Melbourne – see articles on ABC and The Age.  On Saturday 29th, I dropped by;  Daniel was at the doctors and not well after 11 days.  He finished his strike that day, along with 500 other hunger strikers around the world – although at least one person in USA is continuing their strike (see here).   We applaud their heroic actions – but hope their health is not affected as we need young people with their strength of purpose.  Whether they have an impact on politicians is far from certain.

Many other groups are also calling on government to act now, set out emissions targets and strengthen not weaken environmental laws, and provide the resources that this crisis needs to reverse the current trajectories of two degrees plus warming and massive extinctions.  Rallies were held at Parliament House for biodiversity on 28th November with a follow-up student strike for climate action on 29th November.

What can we do?  BEAM’s mailbox is full of warnings and requests from the many groups we are directly linked to or indirectly through our shared philosophies and concern.  In the last couple of weeks, for example:  

  • Victorian National Parks Association and Environment Victoria sent us the notices of Nature for Life Rally and the Student Strike for Climate Action that happened last week (sadly we missed getting this newsletter out in time).
  • Wilderness Society is asking “Are we eating deforestation” and seeking support to put pressure on where the supermarkets obtain their meat – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is asking us to spread the word on how  Energy Australia (as owners of the very polluting Yallourn Power Station) is undermining climate action in Victoria – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is also asking for action from us to persuade the Victorian State Government to set strong climate targets.  They are due to decide on targets by March.  See here and here.
  • The Climate Council is calling for everyone to sign a petition NOW calling on the Australian Government to acknowledge the link between climate change and the catastrophic fire conditions – see here.
  • Environmental Justice Australia is asking for everyone to contact their State and Federal ministers about their actions (or inaction) on national air pollution standards – see here.
  • GetUp and the Greens also regularly seek support for their initiatives around climate and extinction – check out their websites.

If you want to help but don’t have time to act, you can still keep informed through these groups, support them financially, and add your voice to the growing swell of concerned voices across the world.

Peter Mitchell

Seymour Show and the Myths of Recycling

11th to 17th November was National Recycling Week.  You could be excused for missing this one among all the emails – thanks to Cr David Atkinson for the prompt. 

As part of the week, Planet Ark explored the myths around recycling.  It is worth reading – here – about what is and what is not recycled. 

It’s not simple, as we found at the Seymour Show:

Results from surveys of the recycling bins at Seymour Show confirmed that Seymour people do use recycling bins if they are available.

Local group BEAM Mitchell Environment Group took on the challenge for increasing recycling at the show and divert re-usable materials from landfill. 

The group worked with the A&P Society, Mitchell Shire’s Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Education Officer, Grace Davis-Williams, and Cleanaway.  Ten recycling bins and one skip were provided for the show, with recycling “caps” and signs on the bins.

Sorted rubbish in the recycling skip. Just having the skip available to stall-holders diverted a lot of waste from landfill.

To encourage show visitors to recycle their waste correctly, BEAM volunteers then very publicly sorted the contents of the recycling bins. 

Most of the waste in the bins was cans, plastic and glass bottles, and cardboard, all fine for recycling.  There was clearly confusion about what else can be recycled.  In particular, BEAM volunteers found lots of coffee cups and straws – these are not recyclable. 

Small amounts of carelessly discarded food scraps and soggy tissues were put in the waste bins – they  are good for compost worms but contaminate recycling bins and affect recycling processes.

In comparison, waste bins without a nearby recycling bin did contain a lot of recyclable material.

At the end of the day, a full skip bin of recyclables was collected – that’s a lot of waste that didn’t get sent to landfill.

Based on waste volumes generated at last year’s show, this great initiative by BEAM achieved roughly 50% diversion of waste from landfill!

BEAM had several other themes at the stall in the green shed – and has even bigger plans for the Show in 2020.

BEAM at the Seymour Show, October 2019

Mitchell Community Energy Update

Seymour Energy Project

Community Investment Invited

Mitchell Community Energy Inc. proposes to establish a co-operative to fund an exciting renewable energy project that will provide Mitchell Shire Council with significant on-going financial savings. You are invited to a meeting to form the co-operative, where you will hear about the project and the opportunity to invest in it. The investment opportunity offered will provide a very safe return better than bank interest. Various levels of investment will be available.

The meeting will be held at WineXSam, 69 Anzac Avenue, Seymour on Tuesday 18 September at 7.00 pm. Everyone is welcome to attend and hear about this interesting venture. Enquiries: Jeff Wilmot 0477 054 666

 

PUMPED HYDRO ELECTRICITY STORAGE

This is our proposal to use the existing but unused Trawool Reservoir and the Goulburn River in a pumped hydro storage scheme. A pre-feasibility study carried out by the Melbourne Energy Institute and paid for by the Victorian Government’s New Energy Jobs Fund showed that the reservoir could store 36 MWh of energy which could generate 6 MW for 6 hours, would cost about $9,000,000 and return up to 7% based on arbitrage (buying power cheap and selling it dear). The Finkel review and the general urge for storage have  come since then.

Subsequent to that Nathan Epps, then of Goulburn Valley Water and now of Sustainability Victoria took the proposal to the Intelligent Water Network. IWN is a partnership of Vicwater, 18 Victoria water corporations and DELWP that explores new technologies to meet common challenges. They decided to adopt the scheme and appointed two members to follow it through, in particular our contact to be Andrea Pogue of Goulburn Murray Water.

Our next step is to have a full design and feasibility study leading to a business case that can be pitched to potential investors. IWN encouraged us to submit an application for that to the Victorian Government’s Climate Change Innovation Grants, with Goulburn Valley Water and IWN as partners. This was unsuccessful, but DELWP set up a “market place” for unsuccessful applicants at which we pitched our projects to potential investors.

A representative from ARENA suggested we apply there. Applicants to ARENA must match the amount applied for, so for us the full project is out of the question but we could perhaps match what ARENA calls a desk top study or report (approximating our business case). Potential partners could be IWN, GVW and DELWP. And following encouraging discussions with Infigen they might also be partners.

To make the application we need to have a realistic estimate of the cost and obtained the agreement and cooperation of partners. Continue reading

Food for Thought: challenges and opportunities for farming in the Melbourne Foodbowl

Come along and join BEAM members and friends at our AGM on September 22, 6.30pm.

Our guest speaker is Jen Sheridan from University of Melbourne

Jen is a sustainable food system researcher  and will be discussing her research (from the Foodprint Melbourne Project) on the environmental impact of feeding Melbourne now and at 2050.

She will demonstrate how an area like Mitchell Shire can support a thriving, vibrant local food economy sees farmland as far more than just ‘suburbs in waiting’.

Cities are often founded where fertile soils and plentiful water provides the farming conditions needed to feed the population and Melbourne is no exception.  But as Melbourne grows to a city of 8 million people, how can we plan our urban areas in ways that don’t destroy the farms that feed us?  Can we design our city in ways that make best use of our city – fringe farmland and provide a more resilient city food bowl?

The AGM will be held at Blue Tongue Berries – 455 Northwood Road Seymour.

For more information and booking details – please select here

Directions to Blue Tongue Berries (BTB) – Travel along the Hume Freeway (M31) until you reach the Seymour-Tooborac (C384) exit. Head towards Seymour, and then turn at Northwood Road (aka Manse Hill Rd) which is the first road on the left. Travel for 4.45 km to 445 Northwood Road. BTB is the last gate on the left just before the freeway overpass.  Look out for the red arrow and Blue Tongue Berries sign at the gate.

 

 

 

 

 

Wattle Day and the Changing Seasons

Golden Wattle

Wattle Day will be celebrated at the Australian Light Horse Memorial Park on Sunday 2nd September 2018, from 10:00am to 1:30pm (see details here).

Wattles are have been a symbol of the Australian bush for a long time and their flowering heralds the changes in the seasons in south-eastern Australia.

Lesley Dalziel writes that “the sight of the first wattles in Spring must have brought joy to all, both the aboriginal inhabitants and the early settlers.  The bright blooms heralded the beginning of a season of growth and for the settlers, a new harvest.  For the aborigines the wattles would be a sign of welcome warmth to come, and a harvest of wattle seeds for baking.  All would have appreciated the beauty of the transformed landscape.”

Wattles were first used as a meaningful emblem in Tasmania in 1838.  Later in the century, the Australian Natives Association argued for the wattles as a national floral emblem, similar to the thistle for Scotland.  In 1899, Field naturalist AJ Campbell founded the Victorian Wattle Club (later League). He helped organise spring excursions on the 1st September each year into the bush surrounding Melbourne.  All this evolved into the first ‘national’ Wattle Day, celebrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on 1 September 1910. Continue reading

Broadford Bushland Reserves in Good Hands

The bushland reserves in Broadford are small but vibrant reserves for native plants and animals and for people who appreciate a quiet walk in the bush.

Broadford Land Management Group (BLMG) has been working with Council staff to manage some of these reserves for many years, and there are plans for more activities over the next few years.

The group began as a committee of management for the new Colin Officer Flora Reserve on Horwood Road in 2007.  This reserve has matured with the plantings, weed control, track maintenance and signage carried out by BLMG.  It is a real asset for Broadford and credit to the work of the group and the Council.

Last year, the group completed a project to create a parkland and bushland corridor along Whiteman’s Reserve off the Clonbinane Road.  This project began as one of the first activities of the newly formed Broadford Environmental Action Movement (later BEAM Mitchell Environment Group) in 1990.

BLMG volunteers at Whitemans Reserve: Peta Langbehn, Barb Moss, Tom Fenton, Louise Falls, Judy Fenton and Bob Tomkins

Bob Tomkins, a long-term member of the group, says that this corridor was part of a larger vision for wildlife corridors and walking trails proposed by Dr Colin Officer and other members of BEAM in 1995.  Many working bees later, and with great support from Mitchell Shire Council’s Environmental Programs staff, Whiteman’s Reserve is now a very attractive route for walkers in Broadford and a safe corridor for wildlife (see article).

Broadford has several other bushland areas so there is still plenty of work for people interested in enhancing and caring for the natural places of Broadford.

Broadford Land Management Group is holding its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 22nd August.  Anyone interested in joining the group as an occasional worker or a more committed committee member is welcome to come along.

Later in Spring, the group will hold its annual wildflower walk in the Colin Officer Flora Reserve. This is an opportunity to see and learn about nature in Broadford in full flower.

For more information about the group and the AGM, contact the Secretary on 0468 795 954 or broadfordlmg@gmail.com.