Wednesday, April 13, 2011

local ire from fuel break works

report from the roundtable - 12 apr

At this week's council meeting I raised a late item to raise the issue of fuel break works in the Southern Dandenong Ranges as part of the Melbourne Bushfire Protection Program.

Recent works along the edge of the Dandenong Ranges National Park (Nation Rd, Selby) and Zig Zag Road in Belgrave South have raised the ire of many locals. There has been significant environmental degradation which will lead to enormous ongoing weed management, restoration and native vegetation offset costs into the future.

After urgent talks with local environment groups and Parks Victoria onsite at Zig Zag Road I thought it was important to highlight the issue and concerns to not only the Minister for Environment and our local MPs, but to the CEO of Parks Victoria as well.

There is no doubt that the community and environmental groups are in support of the aims of the program, that is to reduce fire fuel and maintain fire breaks across the ranges, however the manner in which this work has been conducted has been far from ideal with enormous damage to significant understorey vegetation, habitat trees and vulnerable species.

In Selby the ground was scalped to bare earth and although a 20 metre fuel break width was a specific condition of the works, in most places the width is 35 metres and in some places the break is over 45 metres wide. These works caused significant destruction of high quality remnant ground flora vegetation and added substantially to the spread of several invasive weeds. The scalping of earth has resulted in erosion that is undermining tree roots and the soil compaction has lead to increased runoff and associated erosion and reduced the ability for in ground infiltration of surface water.

After the work at Nation Road, local Friends of Group members, who work tirelessly enhancing our natural environment spending countless hours weeding and planting, spoke to Parks Victoria to get agreement on a more sensitive approach to works at the Zig Zag Road site in Belgrave South. However the on the grounds work were yet another example of environmental degradation and showed a lack of understanding of the environmental values of the site.

Of particular note on the Zig Zag Road site was the substantial investment of volunteer hours into the site, the Friends of Group had invested over 200 hours of their time and effort pulling weeds and enhancing habitat and the natural environment. The site in Belgrave South is particularly special, it is home to Caladenia Oenochila (Wine-lipped Spider Orchid), which occurs in very few places in Yarra Ranges and is vulnerable in Victoria due to its continued depletion. Volunteers are right to be upset about the works and question why they bothered putting in the effort to see it destroyed.

As I've said earlier in this post, everyone supports the aims of the fuel break works, but there are far better ways to achieve the same outcome without the significant environmental damage.

Environmentalists and community groups are now gravely concerned for the next lot of fuel break works planned for the Black Hill Crown Land Corridor Link in Selby, it's an important piece of land, it provides a vital wildlife corridor to link habitat and fauna across the ranges.

The motion called for:

-Assurances that future ecological assessments of fuel break sites are undertaken onsite on not via a desktop survey, the data currently being used is out of date and doesn't represent what's on the ground.

- That sites identified with high quality values and/or vulnerable species be appropriately managed to ensure fuel break and reduction works are undertaken sensitively to achieve the aims of the program, maximise biodiversity outcomes and minimise impacts.

- Consideration of the implementation of a Code of Practice and appropriate training of contractors.

- Details of management and restoration plans for sites already damaged as well as location of offsets for all the native vegetation that has been removed so far.

Specifically in relation to the Southern Dandenong Ranges the motion called for:

- Suspension of any futher work pending detailed onsite ecological assessment of the Black Hill Crown Land Corridor Link.

- Commitment to collaborate with locals who have the on the ground knowledge of these vast tracts of land and come to agreement and understanding around the extent and method of works, particularly at the Black Hill site.

- A commitment to a minimum three year funding for weed management and rehabilitation of sites affected by major soil disturbance as part of the recent Melbourne Bushfire Protection Program works.

I'm pleased to say that councillors voted unanimously to support the motion.

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At 10:30 AM, Anonymous John Mack said...

What is it with some of our Councillors and the idea of fuel reduction burns? Did those on Yarra Ranges Council who have Green leanings learn nothing from Black Saturday? The quantity of fuel added to the ferocity of the fire, and fuel REDUCTION burns remove this issue from the equation to a significant extent. Maybe it's about time our Councillors acted on behalf of all residents, not only on behalf of those who share their individual social and political biases and beliefs.Try asking those same residents how they view fuel reduction burns after they are threatened by a wildfire

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Samantha Dunn said...

Just to clear up any confusion, this is about fire fuel breaks not fuel reduction burning. Council has signed off on a fuel reduction burning policy, it was unanimous and we do support fuel reduction burning. This entry is about ensuring the needs of the fuel break program are fulfilled without the need for significant restoration, weed management and offset costs.


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