Field Trip

Monday 24/11/14

  • Different jurisdictions (eg. Local, state and federal governments) mean different and inconsistent management techniques when in reality no piece of land eg. World Heritage Area should be looked at individually due to edge effects.
  • Rate of biodiversity loss in the last 200 years around the world is extremely high – it is devastating to see such huge human impacts
  • Australia has highest record of biodiversity loss in the world due to:
    • Colonialism – changed fire regimes, industrialization, pollution, habitat loss, introduced species in a country with many specialised species. Fire was an extremely important part of the landscape and many native plants are dependent upon fire and the traditional burning methods for germination, perhaps more so than most people realise.
    • High rate of endemism in Australia – because it is so isolated and there are so many extreme and fragmented habitats, it makes sense that there is a high rate of endemism however it is also tragic that these species have been lost.
    • Introduced Species – while the English may have thought that bringing horses, pigs, foxes, rabbits was a good idea at the time, it has changed Australian ecosystems and put native flora and fauna at risk and management of these “pests” is a hugely contentious issue therefore very little progress is made.
  • The idea of bounded rationality limiting a successful management approach is something that I definitely agreed with as it is so true that a lack of creativity and reflexivity limits society – we are all so stuck in our ways and sometimes unable to see other options due to limited amounts of information, cognitive limits of the mind and the small amount of time given to make decisions.
  • Species area curves – the bigger area, the more species there are – from a science background, this was an idea that I found very logical however I found it interesting that many people in the class were confused by the idea and didn’t understand why larger reserves would result in higher amounts of biodiversity.
  • Another interesting pointed out was the idea that boundaries in reserves doesn’t mean that limit ecosystem processes to inside that reserve ie. processes still happen outside of those boundaries, so we shouldn’t necessarily be looking at these in isolation.
  • Reserves and climate change – a good question brought up was whether the reserve will still be able to provide a suitable habitat for the animals it was designed to protect?
  • Many protected areas/ecosystems have both social and ecological dimensions, thus adaptive management practices are important. An example given was that of Kruger National Park where mass elephant shootings occurred due to overpopulation and no predators.  After subsequent public outrage, it was determined that 90% of damage was caused by 10% of the elephant population (mostly lone bulls) so the park now has a culling program focused on lone bulls instead of killing whole family groups.  I thought this was a good application of adaptive management in protected areas whereby a different solution was sought to a problem after it was found that the current solution was not quite right.
  • It was pointed out that we are a long way from an integrated system in Australia regarding Protected Area Policy.

 

Day 2 25/11/14

  • There are many different participants and threats in Blue Mountains area, all with a wide variety of views on very contentious issues.
  • Fragmented authority and control makes progress towards goals difficult, however solutions to many of the problems eg. Bushfires, feral animals, are unknown.
  • 6 different Aboriginal groups – co management is being implemented, who knows how well it will go however it at least gives Aboriginal people a sense of connection to the land that they were removed from which is important. At this point, implementing Aboriginal techniques couldn’t really hurt.  For example, the Firesticks Project is putting Aboriginal burning techniques back into practice.  This is based on the idea that cool burning is what the Australian landscape is used to and relies on rather than the hot, destructive fires caused by backburning and hazard reduction burns.
  • Huge amount of urban development in the Blue Mountains – some directly backs on to dense forest making fire risks extremely high. This is difficult to manage and is a highly sensitive issue however I feel that most people who live there would/should know and accept the risk of high fire danger.  I found it amazing how much urban development there is on the top of the plateau, including the edges of escarpments and cliffs.  The main thoughts that arose when I saw the picture of this was how great of a fire danger that was, how much insurance premiums these households must be paying, and how much pollution and sedimentation must occur in the valleys downstream from the urban areas.
  • Issue of feral animals in the Blue Mountains is highly contentious – particularly horses, pigs, dingoes, cats and foxes. I didn’t realise how much a problem each of these were – I believe there is a severe lack of public awareness as to the extent and diversity of environmental issues (eg. threats to native species, sedimentation and water quality) these animals have.
  • Policies such as not allowing pets (particularly cats) into the region may be a solution to controlling feral dogs and cats as in the future this would decrease the amount of strays.
  • I also didn’t realise the serious lack of funding for NPWS and the Rural Fire Service to implement effective management and control methods. I was slightly outraged to hear that some Blue Mountains residents were not willing to pay $1/quarter in an Environment Levy to help fund the protection of the World Heritage Area in which they live and impact upon.

Day 3 26/11/14

First Stop: Yellowmundee

  • Yellow Bloodwood was the tree used for smoking
  • Both presenters were Aboriginal so being able to learn about and use traditional burning methods on the land clearly was very exciting and rewarding for them. For them, co management is about giving Aboriginal people the chance to have a say in regards to their land and to have opportunity.
  • Volunteer bush regeneration group helped clear up lantana – connection to the land and other people was forged by helping clean up the site, however much more progress is required. At this site, the negative effects of introduced weeds such lantana and African grass is highly evident as the understorey is extremely thick and it was believed by the presenters that kangaroos wouldn’t be able to move through it.
  • Firesticks program – discussion of cultural burning techniques was interesting in that it portrays a completely different idea of fire management than what has been used for the past 200 years. It makes sense that lighting small, “cool” fires will smoke out the animals first so that very little biodiversity is lost in the process, however the idea that the fire simply dissipates is a little unnerving and unconvincing – most of the time backburning acts as a control method however sometimes with the right conditions it can in fact worsen the fire.  However the presenters also expressed these reservations and he made a very convincing argument for cultural burning.
  • An interesting point he made in favour of cultural burning was that beehives are now found higher in trees due to hotter fires which climb higher in the trees due to cultural burning.

Second Stop

  • Bushwalk was lovely! So nice to see a lizard and have a guided walk with someone who knows about all the different plants and animals and impacts upon the area.
  • He talked about the lack of education and understanding of various environmental issues faced in the park along with lack of funding issues. Apart from park tickets, which have a very high political cost and have therefore been cut, biobanking is often the only new money NSW Parks is getting.
  • Topic of cultural burning was brought up as the specific site hadn’t had a fire in it for nearly 20 years. He called it habitat reduction burning, as it doesn’t particularly have to burn regularly to be a healthy ecosystem, in fact he stated that if it burned too often, it would harm the ecosystem.  It was interesting to hear such strong, differing opinions in relation to the issue – both people think they are right and when they both explain it from their perspectives it makes sense.  This just shows the difficulty of fire management, it will be difficult to reach a conclusion where everyone is happy.

Third Stop: Aboriginal Perspective

  • I found it very interesting that he wouldn’t tell us stories that are secret eg. The seven sisters – while I can understand that these stories are only allowed to be told to specific people, I would have thought that they would want to pass on aspects of their culture, including stories, which may generate more interest and value in their culture and also preserve the stories that are left.
  • I also found it interesting that women weren’t allowed to play the didgeridoo!
  • I thought he gave a great overview of Aboriginal culture. If I were a foreign tourist it would be very interesting to learn about such culture.
  • Coming from a science background where I’ve learnt a bit about geology, it is quite fascinating that the ochre comes in all different colours and is made from clay minerals.

Day 4   27/11/14

First Stop: Nature Deficit Disorder

  • This definitely resonated with me personally – I have grown up on property and have always loved the outdoors. However with new technologies and smaller living spaces kids are encouraged to not go outside and instead are given video games and smart phones to occupy their time with.  I didn’t have a mobile phone until I was 18 and now most kids have one.  I strongly believe that there is a nature deficit disorder occurring amongst younger generations of city kids.  It was obvious on the bushwalk yesterday when our tour guide picked up a small lizard and was passing it around and there were a couple of people scared to touch it!!  There is a definite disconnect with nature and its intentions.

Second Stop: Grand Canyon Walk

  • This was amazing!!! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the plants and animals within the area and had a vast array of things to tell us and show us, including edible plants.
  • His view on traditional fire management was also that it was “habitat reduction” as if you burn in the same place too often, it will burn away all the fragile species of plants. After consideration of the practice, I definitely believe that burning too often will eradicate plant species and agree with his logic.  The major problem I had with the cultural burning method was that it seems highly unlikely that the Aboriginal people burned frequently enough to maintain a level of fuel low enough all around the region that if a tree was struck by lightning it wouldn’t cause a fire (as was the case the other night where 5 fires were started by lightning strikes).  It’s not like lightning is a new occurrence and it always causes fire, so the connotation that fires never got out of hand when Aboriginals ran the land was a bit hard for me to get past.

Third Stop: Fire and other management Issues

  • Fire management and its ability to be “habitat reduction” rather than “hazard reduction” was also discussed.
  • Idea that money spent on walking tracks is an investment – $3.25 return on every $1 spent on walking tracks.
  • Feral animals a very controversial topic, particularly to do with horses.

Fourth Stop: Wildlife Sanctuary

  • I highly admire the owner for having the persistence and passion to set up this facility for protection of native animals. With all the constraints and disagreements with BMCC and ongoing lack of funding issues, it would not have been easy.  However he is doing what he loves and has worked so hard for and it must be extremely satisfying for him to see the results and be able to conduct breeding programs and work towards release programs of quolls.  It was interesting how part of it included training the quolls to build up a defence mechanism to the cats.
  • His knowledge of and love and respect for all these animals, in particular the dingoes, was amazing.
  • I was kind of outraged to learn that ISV charges participants about $2000 for the 2 weeks they are at the Sanctuary and that the Sanctuary doesn’t make a profit!

Day 5: 28/11/14

First Stop: Blue Mountains City Council

  • Very unique situation in that there is a city operating in the middle of a world heritage site.
  • Many challenges and inefficiencies
  • 1/3 budget spent on waste services – seems like a lot!! However waste management is a huge issue and money must be spent to prevent contamination of surrounding protected areas. There are 5 landfills, and leachate and water quality impacts are associated with bad landfills.
  • Also the issue of managing odour impacts as there is sometimes only a 60m clearance from private property due to lack of space in the area.
  • The idea of repurposing waste outcomes to more valuable outcomes eg. A mushroom farm was interesting. I think there is so much room for innovation and improvement in this industry, however forward and creative thinking is required.
  • Low carbon tourism is important due to the huge amounts of waste created by tourism in the region. Landfill is becoming increasingly valuable as the area wont get a new one.  He identified the need to market a group that is willing to pay a bit more green services.
  • An interesting point he brought up was that Council wanted the World Heritage status. Therefore, they have to work with UNESCO.
  • He mentioned that a lot of resources are put into managing urban-bush interface
  • An interesting point he brought up regarding the impact of the urban area was that it changes the hydrology of the area due to mixing of high and low pH substances as the residential zone has an alkalising effect (eg. Concrete, dog poo).
  • It was interesting to get the Blue Mountains City council point of view on the impact of urban areas and what they are doing to mitigate it.
  • He also pointed out the need to look at whole systems rather than problems.

Second Stop: Scenic World

  • Well this was interesting – the owner presented his points of view from that of a profit driven business owner with no willingness to assist protection in the Blue Mountains because he saw himself as separate from it. He also considered his competition to be Disneyland and other theme parks, which I found amusing to say the least.

Third Stop: RFS

  • It was interesting to sit in the room and get a perspective on what actually happens.
  • His story on what happened in the Black Saturday fires in October 2013 made it all seem so real and really made me appreciate the effort that the RFS goes to to manage the issue and try and get it right. I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to come up with the ‘right’ strategy and how easily conditions can change and things can take a turn for the worse.
  • He made the point of that while progress is slow, that is often a good thing because burning is something that needs to be planned and implemented in the right conditions.
  • Most fires can be controlled locally, however 2% escalate to a s44 and need state and federal resources.

Last Stop: Katoomba Falls

  • Gross Pollutant traps remove rubbish, dog poo etc.
  • More money spent on weed removal rather than feral animals
  • Regeneration of landcare site was interesting – the notion of spreading the water out on the land and slowing down its flow interesting as this is an application of Natural Sequence Farming which I did an assignment on recently, so it was good to see it in practice.
  • Slowing down of water allows for better filtration of pollutants from urban runoff.

Day 6 2/12/14

  • We were very lost in how to approach the issue of pest management given that there was very little discussion of the issue. Most of the discussion on the highly contentious issue of pest management was probed by us and even then minimal information was given.
  • We were unsure of how to apply to framework in a logical way in which we would cover the required information. It was difficult because there are different strategies for the management of each pest.  It was also difficult because we both have been studying issues from an environmental perspective and didn’t realise that the purpose of the assignment is to incorporate the social aspects into the decision making process as without incorporating this dimension into policy, a viable management option cannot be devised.
  • Our presentation was not the best, however we have a better idea of the direction we should head in our reports. It was a good lesson in that we probably should’ve asked more questions when we were having problems with it on day 2, we didn’t particularly realise that ours was perhaps harder than others and required a great deal of specialised knowledge until today.  On the other hand, we managed to put half a presentation together and get some direction on the assignment in a couple of hours.

 

 

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