Plains-wanderer survey results from Victoria 2010-2015

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Plains Wanderer 01David Baker-Gabb, ecologist

and Mark Antos, Parks Victoria

In the 16 years 1994-2009 there was only one year with rainfall slightly above the long-term average, whereas there were four droughts among the series of 15 below average rainfall years on then Northern Plains. The current stronghold of the Plains-wanderer in Victoria is the Northern Plains, which are comprised of the Patho Plains west of Echuca and the Avoca Plains west of Kerang.

Following this series of dry years, separate surveys by David Baker-Gabb and Mark Antos revealed moderately high numbers of Plains-wanderers on the Northern Plains in 2010 (Figure 1).Surveys for Plains-wanderers and monitoring on the Patho Plains during 2010-14 indicated that there had been about a 95 per cent decline in the Plains Wanderer’s relative abundance there since 2010. This population crash was precipitated by historically high rainfall throughout south eastern Australia in late 2010 and for much of 2011. This resulted in widespread flooding where water covered much of thegrasslands for weeks and was followed by a massive surge in grassland biomass which persisted for up to three years.

This rampant growth was not initially mitigated by an effective management response such as increasing grazing pressure or burning. Most private paddocks and reserves on the Northern Plains developed an almost uniformly dense tall sward of grass that severely disadvantaged Plains-wanderers, which must have sparse grass to survive range of other threatened grassland fauna species were equally disadvantaged by these conditions.

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Very low numbers of Plains wanderers were also recorded on the Avoca Plains in 2012. None were recorded in 2014 and 2015. There were no records of breeding anywhere on the Northern Plains between 2011 and mid-2014. In late 2014 and early 2015, we recorded 39 Plains-wanderers on the Patho Plains.

This is merely an incipient recovery because encounter rates in 2015 were still less than half those of 2010. Moreover, breeding was recorded in just four (16%) of 24 paddocks surveyed, and only seven of the birds were adults, the rest (82%) were juveniles or chicks. These results suggest that the emerging recovery has not been fuelled by immigration to the area, but instead, by the very few breeding adults left on the Patho Plains after the major declines of the past four years.

These few remnant birds have bred remarkably well. Indeed, different age cohorts of chicks and juveniles indicate that the remnant adults bred successfully in spring 2014, again in the summer of 2015, and then again in autumn 2015.This level of ongoing breeding has not been recorded before in Northern Victoria.

Earth Hour Family Astronomy at Strathallan

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Observing the night sky, Strathallen Earth Hour Celebration 2014

Observing the night sky, Strathallen Earth Hour Celebration 2014

The Men in Black are back! The Bendigo and District Astronomical Society, are returning to Strathallan Hall to celebrate Earth Hour, with Strathallan Family Landcare Group, at 7pm, on March the 28th.

First up, Space Captain and author Paul Foley will provide a brief but colourful and kids friendly history of the universe. Then upon the commencement of Earth Hour at 8 pm, attention will transfer outdoors, where participants will have the chance to view a range of planets, stars, and galaxies, via a quartet of serious sized telescopes. (Subject to weather conditions)

Indicative of the continuing popularity of this event, this will be the Astronomy Society’s fifth consecutive Earth Hour appearance at this rustic country hall, located roughly halfway between Rochester and Echuca. See maps below.

Due to the kind generosity of the Campaspe Shire there is no fee for this event.

The evening will culminate with one of Strathallan Family Landcare Group’s legendary suppers.

For further information contact President Veronica Groat 54849293

or Secretary/Treasurer Jacey Muscatello 0407839192

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X marks the Strathallan Hall

X marks the Strathallan Hall

Andrew Broard MP Speech, Monday, 9 February 2015, House of Representatives

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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
SPEECH
Monday, 9 February 2015BY AUTHORITY OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Monday, 9 February 2015 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Speech
Date Monday, 9 February 2015 Source House
Page 110 Proof Yes
Questioner Responder
Speaker Broad, Andrew, MP Question No.

Mr BROAD (Mallee) (21:16): I have thought long and hard about what I am going to talk about tonight, and I thought I would update the House on a scenario, a situation, that has come through my office. Last year I had a guy come in to see me, and in conversation it became very clear that he was having a great deal of problems with bureaucracy.

This was a farmer who did something that his father had done, that his grandfather had done—that is, plough the firebreaks around his farm, but putting it on the road. This is something that had been going on for a long time in his family, but he did not know that on 8 September 2012 those firebreaks had become listed grasslands under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

We have a real problem in this country where our departments have not learnt how to communicate with our famers. He did something that he thought was the right thing. He thought he was protecting property; he thought, ‘We are in a fire prone area’. Instead, he was threatened with an $800,000 fine and seven years imprisonment. He said to me, ‘You know, I thought about it but I thought, “No, I’m not going to do it”.’

I have been head of the Victorian Farmers Federation, I know exactly what he was talking about. He thought the way to save his farm, the way to get away from the $800,000 fine and the seven years in prison was to do himself in, and that was because of the poor communication of our environment department. But he said, no, he is not going to do that.

I looked into the case for him. It was listed on 8 September 2012. In recommendations to the minister dated 28 August 2012 it said, ‘You need to work with the local community and raise awareness of the listing’. Nothing was done. There was a fact sheet that came out in December 2012, and if you read through the fact sheet it makes it very clear that farming practices that do not require approval from the Australian government include the following, ‘maintaining existing fences, roads, internal access and firebreaks’. So if you read the fact sheet, you can draw the conclusion that he had not done anything wrong.

He ploughed the firebreaks in March and April 2013, so it was five months after the listing. And when you read the very expensive investigation the department has done into him, which I will hazard a guess has cost the Australian taxpayer at least $40,000, the investigation even makes the point that you cannot tell whether those grasslands would be able to be identified as listed or not until spring, until winter, and he ploughed in autumn – and so it continued on.

I thought I would be very wise and I would bring the department down to my office, which I did. I brought down Mr Shane Gaddes, Assistant Secretary for Compliance Enforcement Branch, Department of the Environment, and Mr Drew McLean, acting director of the EPBC compliance section. We suggested that the department use this guy, Mr Trevor Trewin, to do some advertising so that we could talk about it—how he did not know there is

this listing—but all they wanted to do was punish him.

All they wanted to do was get some kind of fine, some sort of remittance against him. And while they sat there as public servants from Canberra probably on, I am guessing, $600 a day each, he sat there on his time. This is an area, Wycheproof, where they have not had any rain; there is a drought this year. We made sure we pushed the meeting back to February so that Mr Trewin could at least try to get some contract harvesting to get some dollars in.

There are many times that I am very proud to be an Australian, but when our government departments want to nail a guy to the wall for doing something that he did not know was wrong, when they want to threaten a guy to the point that he considers suicide, then we need to look at ourselves—we need to look at how we communicate.

One of the stories in my family history is about a great relative of mine from back in the 1800s. People were going to lynch a guy and my relative stepped in. He cut the rope and he said, ‘I will not stand by and watch an innocent man hang’. I think the department needs to look at how it communicates, I think the department needs to look at how it educates landholders and I am very concerned about the heavy-handedness of the environment department in the way it has treated this person. It still has not resolved this case, and I hope it does resolve this.

 
I will be working with the minister to resolve this very shortly.

MP Andrew Broads interference in Illegal clearing native vegetation prosecution

The Hon Andrew Broad  MHR for Mallee

The Hon Andrew Broad
MHR for Mallee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An open letter from David Millsom, Revegetation Practitioner,  P.O. Box 1079 Castlemaine Vic. 3450, to the Hon Andrew Broad

MHR for Mallee, Parliament House, Canberra ACT

The Hon Greg Hunt

Minister for the environment.

Parliament House

Canberra ACT

Minister, the following letter to Andrew Broad MP Mallee is self explanatory. Mr. Broad is I (and many others in Northern Victoria) believe is acting in an unacceptable manner. In a speech to the Parliament Broad claimed that if his interference with this (and other) cases didn’t work he would take the matter up with you to get it “resolved”.

Broads speech contains many errors and I am writing to you to make you aware of the facts in this matter and to ask that the legal process is allowed to proceed without further interference from Andrew Broad or anyone else..

I would appreciate a response to the following questions.

 Is it normal for a backbench MP to interfere in an ongoing investigation in the way Broad has done?

Is it your policy to allow backbench MPs to summon public servants to a meeting, at which Andrew Broad, by his own admission, tried to prevent a prosecution?

Yours in environment protection

David Millsom

A copy of my letter to Broad follows.                                                                                                                                               

The Hon Andrew Broad

MHR for Mallee

Parliament House

Canberra ACT

Reference- Your speech on,” the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.” Hansard – page 110, Monday, 9 February 2015

Your speech to the house has raised several issues that I request you address.

I and people that have contacted me after reading your speech believe your latest statements raise serious questions about your understanding of the Trewins case and the broader (no pun intended) issue of  the illegal clearance of Native vegetation.

In your speech you claim, inter alia, “a farmer who did something his father had done, that his grandfather had done-that is, plough firebreaks around his farm, but putting it on the road. This is something that had been going on for a long time in his family, but he did not know that on 8 September 2012 those firebreaks had become listed grasslands under the Environment Protection and Conservation Act.”

Your quote that “those  firebreaks had become listed grasslands” is a nonsense, they were listed as grasslands and then turned into fire breaks by Trewin, which is why he is being prosecuted. Which bit of that don’t you grasp?

To quote you “I have thought long and hard about what I am going to talk about tonight”, I would suggest you should have thought longer and harder and you may have noticed the mistakes, contradictions and irrelevancies in your speech.

Trevor Trewins forebears according to you (and the physical evidence on the relevant roadsides) had historically established most of the firebreaks on their land. Read the report compiled by consulting botanist Dr. Paul Foreman for EPBC. Dr. Foreman showed that approx 62 hectares of the 100 hectares of roadsides relevant to this case had never been ploughed.  Approx 22 hectares had been ploughed some 20 to 50 years ago, but were floristically similar to the unmolested sections. About 5 hectares out of 100 hectares had been maintained as a firebreak for many years and this was the only area allowed to be legally ploughed. The other 95 hectares constitutes an offence under the EPBC Act and State Government legislation.

Several more hectares of Native vegetation comprising wetlands and regenerating shrubs and trees were also destroyed, but as these are not part of the EPAC listing and are additional to the 100 hectares under investigation.

Trewin is under investigation for destroying  approx 30 kilometers of native roadside vegetation that was protected under state and federal legislation

Trewin has allegedly admitted to several people that he knew that he needed permits from local government and the CFA to plough the roadside.

Roadsides are public property, Trewin nor does anyone else have the right to destroy native vegetation without prior permission from the relevant authority, period.

Your statement to the House of Representatives appears to be constructed to mislead, in that Trewin was NOT doing what his father and grandfather had done. You also fail to give any indication of the large scale destruction involved.

I can only be hope that most MPs have a better grasp on basic legal principles than your speech suggests you possess.

FACT – Whether Trevor Trewin knew that the roadsides were listed is irrelevant and contrary to a basic tenet in the law, that “Ignorance of the law is not a defence “ .

You spent a large part of your speech arguing that the law should not be applied to Trewin because he claims ignorance of the law, which is not a defence.

I find it inconsistent that the National Party campaigns on law and order issues, generally advocating for harsher penalties on one hand while, as you have done, on the other hand pleading exemption from the law when it suits your ideology.

Equality before the law is another basic tenet of our legal system. You appear to be saying that some people are “more equal than others” (read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell), and the law should not apply to your VFF mates.

Question- Please explain why Trewin should be placed above the law and not have to face his day in court?

I was astonished to read in your speech,” I thought I would be very wise and I would bring the department down to my office which I did.” Wise is certainly not the word I would choose.

You admit that you tried to get the Enforcement officers Gaddes and McLean from EPBC to drop the pending prosecution “and do some advertising so we could talk about it- how he did not know there is this listing- but all they wanted to do was punish him.”

 Ignorance of the law is not a defence but again you seem to be pleading that the law should not apply because you don’t want it to.

Your behavior could be construed as interfering with public servants in the execution of their duties. This is generally frowned upon.  I will be pursuing this matter elsewhere.

I and others were in contact with Mclean from EPBC late last year wanting to know why they had not acted against Touhey.

We were not aware of your interference with EPBC at that time. It was your own speech that brought your unacceptable behavior to light. I do so like petards.

Your harassment of and interference with the EPBC Act staff and their work is unacceptable.  It is  publicly known that federal Environment Agency staff are being bullied and intimidated not to prosecute even the most blatant transgressor, such as Trewin . This is totally contrary to principles of good governance. Behaving like a Mallee Bull is a temperament you have oft demonstrated, but it has no place in administration of the law.

Question- I and other members of the community want to know by what authority you intervened in an active investigation by EPBC enforcement officers?

The illegal destruction of roadside vegetation by, usually, adjoining landholders has been a running sore in the broad acre farming and grazing regions since before you were born.

As VFF President you openly advocated for weakening the native vegetation protection laws in Victoria, this is also the position of past VFF Paul Weller and current VFF president Peter Touhey.  You well know Touhey and others have been interviewed by Campaspe Shire officers in relation to several kilometres of spraying and ploughing of EPBC listed native grassland roadsides in the Terricks. State agency has referred the case to EPBC who I understand had begun an investigation into Peter Touhey.

Some unkind people have suggested that you are fighting so hard to keep Trewin from facing court so your VFF mate (and my former neighbor) Peter Touhey does not face prosecution. People can be so cruel.

You seem unaware of how angry many members of our community are with increasingly blatant illegal clearing of native vegetation and the relevant authorities refusal or inability to act. There is mounting pressure from the community on Local and State governments to prosecute offenders. It is up to the courts to decide Trewin, Touhey and several other cases and any penalty. It is certainly not the role of a backbench newbie MP from a minority party to  decide who is brought before the courts.

Could I suggest you take your hands off your ears and put them over your mouth for a while, you may learn something.

Your interference in these cases will be widely circulated to concerned community members, who I am sure will be in touch with you and Minister Hunt.

You talk of community education, as a Greening Australia Facilitator for 10 years I saw clearly that some people are driven by a sense of right to destroy native vegetation, or driven by their politics “nobody is going to tell me what I can do”, a very common attitude in the Mallee. These landholders will destroy vegetation as a political act.   Some believe, incorrectly, that Native grasslands pose a high fire risk and, as you stated, remove it to protect their farm and them.

These people do not respond to education because they believe their self view over rides their legal and moral responsibilities. I have on countless occasions had variations on these themes put directly to me during meetings with landholders.

The only thing that will stop people such as these is the threat of heavy penalties. Thanks to you and your VFF mates the transgressors thought that the chance of being prosecuted was remote.

With the change in the Victorian government and the Greens interest, this issue is about to gain a lot more prominence. Your, Trewin, Touhey and other rabid VFF members behavior will be at the centre of our demand to prosecute a few and therefore educate thousands.

Your little homily about a legendary ancestor who saved a man from being hung by a mob is not relevant as he/she was protecting a (presumably) an innocent man. You are protecting guilty men.

Please resist your instinct to charge back at me and just answer my questions.

I suggest you Google me and see how deep and longstanding my involvement with Native vegetation issues is and ask John Forrest about me. I had a good relationship with John, a very bright, well educated gentleman who understands the value of native vegetation.  Now we have you.

David Millsom

Ps I will email photos of other examples of illegal native vegetation clearance carried out by VFF members to you separately.

Cases of clearing illegally that has been reported but not acted upon can be sent to David Millsom, P.O. Box 1079 Castlemaine Vic. 3450

Mobile. 0429131417

Email millsom@bigpond. com

Photos would be great.

The photos below are of native grassland roadsides on the Terrick Plains after the initial herbicide spraying in Spring 2014. Click on photo for larger view.

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More photos below following cultivation. Photos and comments Paul Haw

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This roadside a year ago was a pure stand of native grasses and lignum including Blue Devil and River Butter-cup.

IMGP7499This roadside has never been cleared in my lifetime – originally a good stand of native grasses and Lignum.

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Beside the Venables Creek, previously an almost pure stand of Lignum has been ploughed in.

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 On the left, a few weeks ago was lignum and native grasses – nothing left. It was once one of the best stands in the entire Yando district.
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A new fire break has been ploughed – I have no recollection of one ever been there, apparently the people that ploughed it couldn’t read
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The other side of the road of the “Significant Roadside Vegetation” sign – makes me cry to see it, knowing that the Shire do not care.

Mysterious Alien Hieroglyphics found on Kamarooka Property

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Kamo 03Is this the surviving fragments of two ancient and humongous crop circles?

  • The launch of a logo for a new, improved, chlorophyll based sports drink?
  • Or the chemical elements of Phil Dyson’s fabled elixir for perpetual youth?,

Then again, possibly none of the above. Following a trying year here at Locky Landcare, and after the heady excitement of the New Year, we can perhaps be forgiven this brief escapade into whimsy.

This Google Earth image actually portrays the Northern United Forestry Group Demonstration Site at Kamarooka. Situated in a “break of slope” location within the landscape, it remained viable farming land from the mid 1800’s through to the mid nineteen fifties.

Extensive land clearing within its catchment area over that time frame, combined with a sequence of wet years, resulted in the water table reaching a critical level, with subsequent surface salting. For the next four decades the site remained an unproductive discharge basin, with limited Barley Grass ground cover.

In 2004 the Northern United Forestry Group rose phoenix like, from the ashes of the Northern United Football Club. The Kamarooka site, located on the Hay family property, was chosen as an initial project by the fledging NUFG.

Over the past decade the area has been transformed by a combination of agroforestry, saltbush planted for grazing, and environmental planting. The groundwater level has been significantly lowered beneath the treated area. Geomorphologist Phil Dyson has developed a complex array of instrumentation, enabling remote monitoring of water table EC’s and levels. Individual tree growth rates and sap flow.

Concurrently the NUF group has grown from a diverse and disparate collection of individuals, into a dynamic group, whose combined intellectual and community contribution considerably exceeds the sum of their singular component parts.

During 2014 the tenth anniversary of the birth of Kamo project was celebrated at every conceivable opportunity, with both gusto and endurance. Now as 2015 dawns, still a little jaded and hungover, and more than a little overweight, from all that birthday cake, the NUFG are contemplating their future. The challenge to any group or organisation, how to maintain momentum, whilst achieving renewal.

 

Postcards from the Edge

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A Plains Wanderer steps out on the northern plains.

A Plains Wanderer chick steps out cautiously, on the northern plains.                                                                       Photo: John Childs

During a survey of remnant Northern plains grassland last Saturday night, a male Plains Wanderer, with four chicks, was recorded. After a particularly dry spring, significant heavy rainfall occurred across the plains area during December. The growth response of chenopod species in the native grassland may have been a trigger for this opportunistic breeding success.

This find has to be viewed in the context of the currently very low population numbers of Plains Wanderers. They are a species teetering on the edge of extinction in the wild, so it is particularly heartening to record the presence of young chicks.

Male Plains Wanderer’s take the responsibly for both brooding the clutch of eggs, and tending the hatchlings, leaving the female free to breed with other males in the vicinity. This libertarian strategy maximises the species reproductive response to spasmodic rainfall events. Yet another quirky aspect of this intriguing bird!

The Year of the Brolga

The local environmental highlight on the northern Plains this year has been two successful Brolga breeding events. On the western portion of the Patho Plains, and at the Kamarooka Complex. A small flock of six birds have recently been seen at Thunder Swamp, a few Km’s to the west of Drummartin.

An iconic bird species, Brolga numbers have been much reduced in the southern states of Australia, affected by intensive agricultural development, the draining and cropping of wetlands resulting in greatly diminished habitat. Fox predation of eggs and chicks has also played a significant part in their decline.

Many thanks both to the people who have contributed to this blog during the year, and also to the surprising number of visitors who have perused this random collection of eclectic environmental  postings during 2014.

A series of photos of a pair of Brolga's that frequented the Tamara Dam area during 2014. Photos: John Childs

A series of photos of a pair of Brolga’s that frequented the Tamara Dam area during 2014.
Photos: John Childs

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Post cards from the Loddon Plains (2)

Thanks again to Paul and Cathy Haw for the photos and captions.

Acres of Lignum, recently cleared, it has been lignum all of my life (68 years).

Acres of Lignum, recently cleared, it has been lignum all of my life (68 years).

 A new fire break has been ploughed - I have no recollection of one ever been there, apparently the people that ploughed it couldn’t read.


A new fire break has been ploughed – I have no recollection of one ever been there, apparently the people that ploughed it couldn’t read.

The other side of the road of the “Significant Roadside Vegetation” sign - makes me cry to see it, knowing that the Shire do not care.

The other side of the road of the “Significant Roadside Vegetation” sign – makes me cry to see it, knowing that the Shire do not care.

Post cards from the Loddon Plains

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Many thanks to Paul and Cathy Haw for the photos and captions.

This roadside has never been cleared in my lifetime - originally a good stand of native grasses and Lignum.

This roadside has never been cleared in my lifetime – originally a good stand of native grasses and Lignum.

On the left, a few weeks ago was lignum and native grasses - nothing left. It was once one of the best stands in the entire Yando district.

On the left, a few weeks ago was lignum and native grasses – nothing left. It was once one of the best stands in the entire Yando district.

Beside the Venables Creek, almost pure stand of Lignum has been ploughed

Beside the Venables Creek, almost pure stand of Lignum has been ploughed