Providence Ponds

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

Letter to Bairnsdale Advertiser 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.

Gippsland Environment Group