Russell Thomas – MEM Course Day 3

A visit to Yellowmundee Park Ranger Paul Glass and Aboriginal Co‑Management liaison officer Dennis Barker were kind enough to present a case study where a small trial of cultural burning has been used as part of a weed control programme.

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Figure 1 – Park Ranger Paul Glass discussing Aboriginal Co‑Management and cultural burning

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Figure 2 – Aboriginal Co-Management liaison officer Dennis Barker discussing Aboriginal Co‑Management and cultural burning

Both men were clearly passionate about it, from both an ecological point of view (controlling weeds and enticing native fauna back into the area), as well as a social perspective, seeing it as a way for local aboriginal people (and non‑aboriginal people) to reconnect with country.  The “Fire‑sticks” programme is a trial on some small areas to see if it works – the evidence so far looks like the burn is removing the introduced species and allowing some native grasses to grow back – it hasn’t completely got rid of the introduced species, but perhaps with a repeated cycle it could.  The key appears to be to plan a “cool burn” – small fires in cold months, so as not to damage the canopies of the trees.

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Figure 3 – Area with lantana pre-clearing (area in front has been cleared and burnt)

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Figure 4 – Pile of African Love Grass ready to be burnt

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Figure 5 – Area showing native grasses starting to grow back after burning

A slightly different view was presented by Clive Barker at Lyrebird Dell – but the fundamental seems to be constant.  The key to burning seems to be to understand the country – that is, most species have a time that they need to regenerate seeds and also a time where the seeds if not activated by fire will not germinate.  This provides an “upper” and “lower” bound for timing of burns.  The tricky part is figuring out what that time is – and that is where there seems to be a reasonable amount of debate.

Moving away from fire – it seems that there is a high risk to the ecosystem through introduced species (“weeds”).  The fact that during November the Rhododendron was being celebrated through a festival in the local area highlights that there has not been enough public engagement with respect to introduced weeds.  I am sure that if the public were educated regarding what is native (note native to the Blue Mountains, not just native to Australia) and the role that such weeds can play in dramatically altering an ecosystem, they would work to stop it – the issue is a lack of engagement and education.  However, I note that is easier said than done.

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Figure 6 – Park Ranger, Clive Barker

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Figure 7 – Blotched Blue Tongue Lizard

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Figure 8 – Blue Mountains wilderness – probably no person in this entire valley

The practicality of managing a protected area, as opposed to advocating for it became obvious.  This comes back to helping all understand what the common good is.  A good example was the discussion revolving around the management of the grey headed flying fox.  A native endangered species near Yellowmundee, but also a pest for local fruit growers.  A number of temporary licences to shoot the flying fox have been granted to protect the local industry, on the understanding that over a three year period, nets would be installed.  However, at the last minute, local politicians revoked the agreement to install nets, and requires licences to shoot the flying fox be issued on an ongoing basis.  This is an example of local industry and conservations having different goals – at the moment, they haven’t found “the common interest”.  However, this is where strong public engagement is vital – it won’t happen overnight, but with education around the value in maintaining biodiversity, the fruit growers may come around – it won’t be easy, but that’s where the challenge lies for NPWS.

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Figure 9 – NPWS Hawkesbury Area Manager – Glenn Meade discussing management issues

A good case study on the management of feral animals can be found in the film “The Man from Cox’s River” (http://www.themanfromcoxsriver.com/).  This documentary explores a programme to remove a mob of Brumbies from the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.  The practice of shooting the horses has been found to be publically unacceptable, and a directive from the Environment Minister that wild horses are not to be mass-culled has limited options for the NPWS in managing the population.  The programme implemented involved going into the bush, setting up temporary yards, catching the horses, breaking them sufficient to lead them out, and then taking them out of the park.  The practice appears extremely labour intensive, but also effective in removing horses.  The interesting philosophical argument for me comes around the Occupational Health and Safety Aspects of the programme.  I come from a non‑horse background, so I fully accept that I may not understand the nature of the practice, but it appears to be breaking the wild horses in a short period of time, and then leading a partially broken horse out presents a number of risks to the peronnel doing it.  In general industry in NSW, the Workplace Health and Safety Act and Regulation impose a duty of care on employers to provide a safe place of work, and by definition if an accident or injury occurs the workplace is deemed to be unsafe by definition.  I wonder how the OH&S requirements of the programme have been managed, and given that there looks to be some issues, it seems to me that in the case of the wild horses a population of feral animals has been prioritised over the safety of workers – I wonder how this prioritisation fits with the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

Russell Thomas

26-Nov-14

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