Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve burn 3 May 2017 – nationally endangered New Holland Mice incinerated

The below letter was submitted to The Advertiser on 9/7/2017

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In early May, the site of a colony of the rare New Holland Mouse was incinerated in a fuel reduction burn. Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) and Forest Five Management Victoria (FFMV) carried out the burn in the Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve west of Bairnsdale.

Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve is one of only three locations in Victoria where the nationally endangered (EPBC listed) New Holland Mouse occurs.

A number of New Holland Mice had been recorded in the past two years in the area of the Reserve that was severely burned yet Heyfield DELWP/FFMV which oversaw the burn failed to consider the welfare of this rare species locals believe.

“The fire was extremely hot due to a very dry autumn and the Heathland and Banksia woodland was intensely burned right down to sand,” said Louise Crisp from Gippsland Environment Group. “Highway traffic was reduced to one car at a time under police control due to poor visibility from the dense smoke. This was not an ecological burn.”

Members of Gippsland Environment Group and the Mammal Survey Group re-entered the burned area a month after the burn and located the GPS co-ordinates of the sites where the New Holland Mice had been captured.

“All the New Holland Mouse sites were completely incinerated except one which was partially incinerated,” said Louise Crisp.

“The intensity and scale of the burn in locations where the rare New Holland Mouse has been so recently recorded was shocking,” said Nancy McMurray from the Mammal Survey Group “Did DELWP staff actually, consult their biodiversity database? Why did Parks Victoria allow such a burn carried to be out in the Flora and Fauna Reserve with so little regard for threatened species?”

“Since the burn apparently one or more New Holland Mice have been recorded on camera in an unburnt section in the centre of the block but as New Holland Mice have a very small home range of only 0.4-1.4ha it is clear that many of the mice previously recorded have perished,” said Ms Crisp. “Did DELWP/FFMV have authority to destroy a protected species?”

A report by Trust for Nature, which had funded the surveys for New Holland Mice in 2015 and 2016, recommended modification of burning practices in the Reserve including reducing the patch size of burns to protect the New Holland Mouse. New Holland Mice were captured   in a wide range of post-fire vegetation age classes including long unburnt vegetation but none were found in a block burnt 3 years previously. The report noted that it is vegetation structure rather than time since fire per se that influences abundance of New Holland Mice.

“Did Heyfield DELWP/FFMV consider the report’s recommendations and include them in the burn plan? We don’t know because DELWP has failed to provide the burn plan to the public despite requests” said Ms Crisp.

“In addition more than a hundred trees around the boundary of the burn were also felled or pushed over by dozer. Did Parks Victoria authorise DELWP/FFMV to destroy these important habitat trees in the Reserve?”

“This burn raises serious questions about Parks Victoria capacity to maintain and protect the biodiversity of this Reserve and many others in the State. National Parks and Reserves contribute 50% of the burn target in Victoria yet Parks Victoria leaves the burn operations in the hands of DELWP/FFMV who have neither the biodiversity staff nor apparently the inclination to protect threatened species and ecosystems. Continued burning at the scale, frequency and intensity that is currently occurring throughout East Gippsland is a major threat to the survival of indigenous species and ecosystems,” said Ms McMurray.

A key recommendation of the Trust for Nature report suggested that: DELWP and Parks Victoria develop an ecologically sensitive fire management plan for Providence Ponds that targets the conservation of the New Holland Mouse populations given the significance of these localities for the species’ conservation in a state-wide context.

“Gippsland Environment Group urges Parks Victoria to develop an ecological fire management plan for Providence Ponds as a matter of priority before the next autumn burn season,” said Ms Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group is still waiting on answers to questions sent to Heyfield DELWP/FFMV and Parks Victoria over a month ago regarding the Providence Ponds burn.

Louise Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group

NHM - B'dale Advertiser 14.7.17
PPFFR - 110 dozed trees - DELWP burn 3.5.17 PPFFR looking north to PPN 11A PPN 7B 2016 burnt 3.5.17 PPN 11A 2016 #2 burnt 3.5.17

Open letter: Nowa Nowa- Nelsons Rd Burn 2BNN0029 – request pause and review

Dear Ms Eagleson,

Gippsland Environment Group is very concerned about a scheduled burn due to be ignited in East Gippsland along the Ramsar listed Lake Tyers downstream of the township of Nowa Nowa ( Nowa Nowa –Nelsons Rd – 2BNN0029).

This planned burn (260ha) is located in Lake Tyers State Park and borders the Nowa Nowa arm of Lake Tyers, a part of the Ramsar listed Gippsland Lakes. It has not been burnt for more than 60 years. Previous DELWP burns in the Lake Tyers State Park have incinerated a Sooty owl nest and burnt vegetation right down to the lake shore.

Another burn adjacent to the township destroyed a number of large habitat trees and the amenity of the Nowa Nowa Mountain Bike trail.

We wish to respectfully request an immediate pause on any plans to ignite the burn and that DELWP undertake on-ground surveys to ensure the protection of the site’s ecological values:

  • Current conditions are very dry and reliance on the moisture differential to protect the Warm Temperate Rainforest stands and Riparian Forest, combined with use of aerial incendiaries risks incinerating the whole area;
  • The burn plan has not excluded a section of the Limestone Box woodland in the southeast corner and the dozed boundary has crossed through the EVC;
  • There are a number of Yellow-bellied Glider feed trees in the south-east gully bordering the dozed fire break-line at S37° 45.8’ E148°7.8 and Yellow bellied gliders were heard immediately west of here on night of 15.2.17;
  • Yellow-bellied gliders were also seen and heard on western side of Nelsons Rd (across from the cleared land-forest boundary on east side road) on night of 15.2.17. Locals have frequently heard and seen yellow-bellied gliders point crossing Nelsons Rd at this point entering to and from the burn area;
  • There is an eagles nest on the spur running east from the mouth of Ironstone Creek at S37°44.30 E148°.6.24. There also other Yellow-bellied glider feed trees in this area;
  • An extensive stand of Silver Banksia is located in the gully that runs east on the southern side of the eagle’s nest;
  • Many large old Saw Banksias occur throughout the burn area but there are many of varying age as well, burning this site will eliminate this age differentiation and destroy a key food source for nectar-feeding mammals;
  • There are many old habitat trees throughout the whole burn area but DELWP have only raked or dozed around those hollow trees immediately adjacent to the road;
  • Long unburnt forest in East Gippsland is preferred habitat of potoroos and bandicoots but no DELWP mammal surveys have been conducted;
  • Long unburnt forest is now a rarity in Gippsland and must be protected.

It is unfortunate that our request to walk through the burn area with DELWP burn staff was refused, this area is of very high ecological significance.

We urge the Department to intervene to ensure that this burn is re-assessed and the biodiversity at the site is completely protected.

Yours sincerely

Louise Crisp

Gippsland Environment Group

  • Planned burn area


First the Reef – Now the Alps

This open letter recently submitted on behalf of GEG to Victorian ministers addresses the lack of action on feral horses in the Victorian Alps.

“Eastern Alpine National Park is dying, and Victoria is doing nothing about it.

Feral horses are not only destroying the Alps fragile ecology, plant and animal communities, but the ability to provide a reliable source of water via the slow release of clear, pure water.

[The Australian Alps produce 29% of the Murray Darling’s water, worth about $9.6 billion p.a. As well, since the Snowy River’s diversion as part of the Snowy Scheme, the south eastern slopes of the Eastern Alps are the principle source of its water.]

In a time of climate change, can we afford to ignore this degradation of our major water resource?”

Read the complete letter here

Fire & Biodiversity Forum – 12th March 2015 – 7pm

firebdposter_webBurning issue to be subject of local forum

A public forum on fire will be held on Thursday evening, March 12th at 7pm, at St Mary’s Parish Hall, Bairnsdale to discuss various aspects of fire management including biodiversity loss, forest type, age, fire severity, climate change and public safety, as well options for future management.

The forum, starting at 7.00 pm, will hear from expert speakers including Dr. Chris Taylor, a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute, and Phil Ingamells co-ordinator of the Victorian National Parks Association’s (VNPA) Fire Project.

Dr Chris Taylor is co-author of a recently published scientific study on the relationship between the age of trees and the severity of fires in Mountain Ash forests. This study showed that increasing the area of young Mountain Ash trees can increase the probability of high severity fires in these forests. Dr Taylor will present and discuss the findings of this study and its implications for forest management.

The VNPA’s Fire Project is concerned with improving fire management on all public and private land across the State. Phil Ingamells will outline the dilemmas of fire management, highlight the changes in fire management since the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, and the knowledge that has been gained since that time. He will suggest ways we can improve fire planning and management, so that we can achieve better protection for the community, and better natural protection for our natural areas.

The event will be hosted by the Gippsland Environment Group. President, Mr John Hermans said “we are really excited to be able to present this forum to the people of Bairnsdale and the wider East Gippsland community, as it will give them a chance to understand some of the complexities involved in fire management and hopefully provide some hard learned truths which tend to get forgotten in the rush to ‘burn excessively’ in an attempt to protect ourselves from bushfires”. “This is a great opportunity to hear about some of the latest science coming out of the University of Melbourne, and elsewhere, which can help inform us to make better decisions about fire management and should dispel some myths too” said Mr Hermans. “Anyone with an interest in how fire should be managed, its impact on communities, fuel reduction burning and biodiversity or people just wanting to be better informed about these important issues, are urged to attend”.

The forum is a free event and everyone is welcome.

For further information please phone 0468 395 388.

Stop the Scrapping of the Snowy Scientific Committee

The NSW Government plans to scrap the independent Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC), the only independent scientific body advising on environmental flows for the Snowy River and other rivers affected by the Snowy Scheme.

The NSW legislative assembly has passed a Bill to abolish the SSC and replace it with an advisory committee (with limited functions) controlled by the Minister for Primary Industries. The Bill will be voted on in the legislative council after parliament resumes on the 6th May 2014.

Environment Victoria has established a petition to help retain the SSC. Please sign the petition at asking NSW MPs to save the SSC.

The SSC was belatedly established in January 2008 and despite a serious lack of funding and support from the NSW Government it produced a series of invaluable public reports on the adequacy of environmental flows to the Snowy River. Its first three year term expired in May 2011 and despite government promises at the time has not been re-established.

Despite intergovernmental agreements in 2002 to return 28% to the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam and flows to the upper Snowy above Jindabyne the river is far from saved. The Snowy River in NSW is listed by the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee as an endangered aquatic ecological community. You can view the entire report at:

In the 2014/15 water year the total annual allocation to the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam will be less than 14% whilst the Snowy above Jindabyne Dam in Kosciusko National Park remains severely degraded.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (Snowy Advisory Committee) Bill 2013 will replace the six member independent SSC with a Ministerial controlled advisory committee that:

  • has no requirement for any scientific representatives
  • will have a chair (& all the members) appointed by the Minister for Primary Industries not the Minister for Environment
  • will have a greatly reduced role compared to the SSC advising only on the annual release regime of environmental water whereas the SSC was also required to advise on the adequacy of environmental flows, the programs for restoration of the rivers and catchments and provide an annual public state of environment report
  • removes transparency and accountability from the $425 million taxpayers investment in Snowy River environmental flows
  • will not have confidence of the Snowy communities or the general public

Last year Snowy Hydro Ltd (SHL) with a net profit of $280 million paid out $460 million in dividends to its three government shareholders. NSW with a 58% share of SHL benefited the most. Without the independent oversight of the SSC there is the potential that taxpayer funded environmental water may be diverted for the financial benefit of SHL and the NSW Government.

The restoration of the Snowy River depends on an adequately funded independent Snowy Scientific Committee.

Scathing EPA Report of the Lakes

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has undertaken an investigation of the salinity levels and its impacts on the Gippsland Lakes. The EPA report presented in May 2013 clearly states that the deepening of the entrance by Gippsland Ports (GP) was responsible for the increased salinity of the Gippsland Lakes.

The report outlines that “The Gippsland Lakes are characterised by a strong east to west salinity gradient corresponding to the increased influence of ocean waters. Salinity levels are driven by proximity to the entrance and is produced by the salt water input at the entrance”. The report further states “The lakes have been modified, the entrance has been dredged even deeper, and this has had a profound modification. Increased salinity stimulates the release of dissolved nutrients from the lakes‘ system…the high levels of surface water salinity threatens the surrounding freshwater swamps and wetlands.”

The report explains that the eastern lakes are generally salt stratified, meaning a layer of freshwater resides over the high saline deeper water and that this condition is conducive to the release of nutrients from lake sediments which are then available to feed algal blooms.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by GEG demonstrate that the East Gippsland Shire operated as an agent for GP in applying for funding to investigate developing Lakes Entrance as a deep sea port to service the oil and gas rigs. It is also interesting that in their application to the Shire, GP stated that the entrance was 2.5 metres deep. It is currently being maintained at 6 to 7 metres, twice the depth that the previous dredge vessel ‘April Hamer’ could manage.

The lakes have now been invaded by marine species such as shark, stingray, squid and exotic pests such as the European Shore Crab. Sandworm are now dead, fringing vegetation has been killed and bank erosion has followed.

It is now more important than ever that state and federal governments step in and carry out a complete (environmental, economic and social) audit of the lakes’ and that we move towards establishing a dedicated skills based Gippsland Lakes Management Authority instead of the continual spin generated to assure tourists that all is fine with the lakes’ health whilst they rapidly decline and take the tourist industry and the East Gippsland economy down with it.

More trouble for the Snowy

The NSW Government is proposing to replace the independent Snowy Scientific Committee with an advisory committee subject to the control and direction of the Minister and funded by Snowy Hydro Ltd.

The Snowy Scientific Committee (established by legislation) had provided the only public accountability and transparency on environmental flows. Now the NSW Government wants to do away with it completely.

Read the full article (at Environment Victoria’s website) – More trouble for the Snowy

Flawed Gippsland Lakes Strategy

The Draft Gippsland Lakes Environmental Strategy prepared by the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee is flawed as it was not based on the international standard for risk management – ISO 31000.

The Gippsland Lakes are Ramsar listed wetlands of international significance. If you’re developing a strategy, policies or a system to manage and mitigate environmental impacts of such an important ecosystem, it must be in line with world’s best practice, based on a reputable international model of risk management.

The strategy does not outline how environmental impacts were identified, assessed and what mitigation strategies will be implemented according to an order of risk heirachy. There is a list of wish-wash aspirational objectives that do not indicate who is responsible for what and have no completion dates. There is no monitoring, auditing or certification of the process by a third party independent body. This clearly goes against the fundamentals of process integrity and continual improvement.

The strategy is only a rehash of existing documentation dumbed down to devaluate signficant environmental issues. For example, the only place you’ll find the word mercury in the entire document is in the reference page. G Fabris and other scientists back in 1999 identified the rising levels of mercury in bream found in the lakes yet there is no mention of the associated health risks or mitigation programs to tackle mercury washing down from disused mines upstream in the catchment. Furthermore there is no mention of the new dolphin species Tursiops australis (the Burrunan dolphin) or that mercury poisoning killed 9 of them in 2008-2009. There is only one paragraph on dredging of the artificial entrance with no mention of the severe impacts caused by the influx of salt water into the lakes. There is no mention of the european shore crab, an exotic invasive species that has entered the lakes and has decimated native species of sandworm and freshwater bivalves.

This entirely flawed process can only come down to the fact that the committee is stacked with members of the business community such as land developers, tourism operators and the ports manager who have commercial interests and steer away from the complex issues of the lakes and the science behind sound environmental management.