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Ghost forests: Australia’s snow gums under threat from climate change

From a distance, the white flush looks almost like a line of snow, freshly settled on the mountain slopes.  But the white haze that covers these slopes is not snow, it’s dead trees. Dead snow gums, to be precise, Eucalyptus pauciflora.

Experts say snow gums have not evolved to cope with more frequent and more intense bushfires, caused by the global climate crisis.  This has resulted in the nature of Australia’s high mountain landscapes changing, and the ecological collapse of snow gum woodlands.  And the abrupt decline or change of this ecosystem is happening before our eyes.  Read More

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Preparing for Summer Camping – from the Conservation Regulator

The Conservation Regulator oversees the regulation of wildlife, forests and public land in Victoria.  With summer finally here, they are keen to help everyone stay safe in the bush with some great tips on summer camping.

With hotter and drier conditions predicted this summer, a high fire risk, and more visitors anticipated in our forests and beaches, we want all Victorians to be campfire safe and to look out for others when visiting the great outdoors – wildlife included!

If you’re setting up camp in the bush over the next few months, it’s important to brush up on campfire rules before leaving home to avoid risking communities and the environment. Prepare before lighting your campfire by making sure you:

  1. Know how to build and maintain a safe campfire: always use a purpose-built fireplace or dig a 30cm deep trench, clear 3m around it of flammable materials, and keep all branches and logs under 1m long.
  2. Know the rules specific to your campsite: this can differ between forests and parks. Check the Parks Victoria website or call them 131 963 for National Park information. Call 136 186 for rules in state forests.
  3. Check the weather conditions and Fire Danger Ratings: never light a fire on a Total Fire Ban day, and if it’s hot and windy, consider if you really need a fire. If in doubt, don’t light one.
  4. Have quick access to at least 10 litres of water: pack a bucket and keep it filled with water, not soil, to make sure your campfire can be completely extinguished.

Campers are responsible for keeping their campfires safe, including never leaving it unwatched or unattended, and if you leave the campsite even if only for a short while, put out your campfire. If it’s cool to touch, it’s safe to leave.

And whether you’re heading out for a long trip or just for the day, make sure you follow all public land rules to prevent environmental harm and wildlife crime:

  • Littering: Clean up after yourself and take all rubbish home with you.
  • Off-road vehicles: Drivers and riders must be licenced, have vehicles registered, and stick to open, formed roads.
  • Other recreational activities: If you want to pan for gold, fly your drone, or go horse-riding or mountain bike-riding, there are specific rules you need to follow. For more info, visit the More to Explore app.
  • Wildlife: Marine mammals and hooded plovers will be active along the coast and reptiles will be out in forests. Keep your distance, have dogs on-lead, and never feed them.

Authorised Officers are patrolling in forests and along the coast to ensure everyone knows and follows camping, campfire, and outdoor recreation rules to prevent environmental harm and wildlife crime.

You can report any illegal behaviour on public land to 136 186 and any wildlife crime to Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000. Bushfires should be reported to 000. For more information about rules in state forests, visit their website.

You can read and subscribe to the Conservation Regulator newsletter for all the latest news, including information on reporting offences, and an update on the outcome of legal cases.

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Track Clearing in Croajingolong National Park, and what it’s really like as a track clearing volunteer

Point Hicks in the Croajingolong National Park is named after Lieutenant Zachary Hicks, the naval officer on James Cook’s Endeavour who first sighted the southeast tip of the Australian continent just after daybreak on April 19, 1770.

Cook sailed towards the landmass for two hours and described it in his journal before turning northeast. “What we have seen of this land appears rather low and not very hilly, the face of the country green and woody, but the sea-shore is all a white sand” — an accurate description of Point Hicks and the coastal park to this day. Smoke from several fires was observed — probably from managed burns and Gunaikurnai campfires. Cook took the fires to mean that the land was inhabited, but no one came out of the bush to greet the visitors.

Moving forward a couple of centuries — to Grand Final weekend September 2023 — and smoke was seen again in east Gippsland, this time from out-of-control bushfires. Bayside Bushwalking Club member Mike Grant was packing for a weekend of volunteer track clearing in Croajingolong on Grand Final Thursday when the Parks Victoria ranger in charge rang him to advise that the trip should be cancelled due to the fire risk.  As Mike said later, while Captain Cook had the Pacific Ocean as an escape route, there is only one road out of Wingan Inlet, which would be a problem in a bushfire.

Mike has organised the Grand Final long weekend track clearing project at Croajingolong for the past five years. In 2022, 14 volunteers took part. The 2023 event has been rescheduled for the Anzac Day weekend of April 25 to April 28 next year —254 years after Captain Cook.

The Croajingolong track clearing event is one of twelve in an annual program organised by Bushwalking Tracks and Conservation (BTAC), a group of environmental volunteers organised by Bushwalking Victoria, the peak body for bushwalking clubs in Victoria.

Mike says it’s a sociable weekend of camping and track clearing with opportunities for walking and enjoying the sandy coast. The weekend starts on Thursday with the 450 km drive. The group sets up camp at Wingan Inlet or Point Hicks campground ahead of a 9am Friday briefing with Nick Wilkins, the Parks Victoria ranger based at Cann River.

On Friday and Saturday, the group clear tracks radiating out of the camp site. Equipment, including chain saws, brush cutters and hand tools, is supplied from a trailer maintained by BTAC.

On Saturday night Parks Victoria hosts a barbeque for the workers at the camp site. The 6.5-hour drive back to Melbourne takes up most of Sunday.

Track clearing is a niche bushwalking activity. Some track clearing takes place in remote and difficult country — like the Victorian Alps — and volunteers need to be strong and fit to carry chain saws, brush cutters and fuel into remote areas as well as, on some occasions, their own tent, sleeping bag and food.

Mike’s project at Croajingolong is not arduous and most competent bushwalkers would manage.  “We use the opportunity to get into the bush at Croajingalong and help keep important parts of the park open for bushwalkers. If the tracks grow over, they’re impassable and can be lost for all time.”

Mike said there was a wide role for volunteers in track clearing, working together with Parks Victoria and the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA).

BTAC takes on some very remote and difficult track clearing projects including McMillans Walking Track, the Australian Alps Walking Track, Mt Howitt Spur Track and Eagles Peaks Track in the Alpine National Park.

There’s a cohort in bushwalking who are up for hard walks and hard work. However, there are less demanding events such as reinstating the track to Mt Thorn.

“In the remote areas we may have to carry in the equipment and fuel as well as our camping gear, so that’s for stronger bushwalkers. But other tracks — McMillan’s for example — we can usually get the equipment trailer to the camp site, or we can carry equipment and volunteers’ packs in 4WD vehicles.”

Volunteers have been fewer since the COVID shutdown, but numbers have improved, and younger volunteers are participating. A survey last year by DEECA showed young people were open to the idea of working to improve the environment but were not prepared to commit to membership of an established group.

Parks Victoria and Bushwalking Victoria are conscious of this and are always looking for ways to promote event-based, short-term opportunities for people with a range of abilities. For example, at the BTAC event at Ropers Hut in the Alpine National Park maintenance work was undertaken on the hut by volunteers not wanting to participate in the more demanding track clearing activities.

To sign up for Mike’s weekend next year and for the full program of track clearing opportunities and information on how to get involved,  go to https://bushwalkingvictoria.org.au/btac/.

You can find BTAC on Facebook here

Article supplied by Martin Curtis (Bayside Bushwalking Club – October/November 2023)

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Did you know you can become a Bushwalking Victoria Individual Member for just $20 a year?

 

Did you know you can become a Bushwalking Victoria Individual Member for just $20 a year? 

Through individual membership you can have a direct impact on safe and responsible recreational bushwalking, volunteer search and rescue efforts, and the conservation of our amazing bushwalking tracks across Victoria.

Why Support Bushwalking Victoria?

  • Promoting Safe Bushwalking: We advocate for safe and responsible outdoor activities, ensuring the well-being of individuals and the community.
  • Volunteer Bush Search and Rescue: For over seven decades, BSAR’s community of 250+ experienced bushwalkers has been a reliable support system for those lost in Victoria’s bush and snow fields. Your membership helps us to respond promptly to calls from Victoria Police, providing necessary training, equipment, and resources. Your support maintains a crucial lifeline for land-based searches in Victoria, providing aid to those in distress.
  • Volunteer Bushwalking Tracks and Conservation: Your support helps safeguard the integrity and accessibility of walking tracks, enriching the recreational bushwalking experience for all.  From clearing fallen trees to identifying noxious weeds, our volunteers work diligently to maintain the delicate balance of our ecosystems. Your support directly contributes to executing vital projects and ensuring a sustainable future for our natural spaces.

Benefits to You:

  • Becoming an Individual member of Bushwalking Victoria gives you eligibility to apply to volunteer with Bushwalking Tracks & Conservation (BTAC) and Bush Search & Rescue (BSAR), and participate in other selected Bushwalking Victoria member activities and training.
  • As a member you will also get great discounts from our extensive list of Outdoor Retailers, including Bogong Equipment, Ajays, Paddy Pallin, Discovery Parks, EMC, Fjallraven, Woodslane, Smitten and Maps, Books and Travel Guides.

Prefer to support Bushwalking Victoria in other ways?

Spread the Word: Share our mission with fellow bushwalking lovers to amplify our impact.  You can find us on Facebook:  

Join Us as a volunteer: Become an active member with BSAR, BTAC, or become a Bushwalking Victoria Board member or supporter, participating in initiatives that promote responsible bushwalking and environmental conservation.

Become a member of an affiliated Bushwalking Club:  Browse our directory to find a club in your local area that offers the activities that meet your interests then click the link to their website for more information. There are clubs of all sizes with many offering walks across Victoria, interstate and even overseas. Most clubs welcome people new to bushwalking and you are certain to find experienced members willing to pass on their knowledge to beginners. Some of our clubs conduct training specifically for people new to bushwalking.  Club membership is not expensive with most annual membership fees ranging from $35-$60.

Your Support Matters

Supporting Bushwalking Victoria is a commitment to elevating nature, ensuring safety, and enhancing recreational experiences. Join us in preserving the beauty of our natural landscapes and fostering a culture of responsible outdoor exploration. Let’s make a meaningful impact on the community and the environment together.

Become an Individual Member

 

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Survey shows many Australians are scared to go on bushwalks. Here’s how you can walk safely with confidence.

According to a survey from the team behind the AllTrails App, just one in three Australians know how to deal with getting lost, while two in three Australians entirely reconsider going on trail walks due to safety concerns.  

According to the survey, only 38% of respondents felt confident with basic first aid when hiking. Only 6% felt confident in dealing with a bite from a snake or spider and 43% of those surveyed did not feel confident in knowing what to do if they encountered a dangerous animal.

It goes on to say "Since 2017, Victoria SES and Parks Victoria have performed 30 separate search and rescue operations at Werribee Gorge state park, nearby Lerderderg state park and the Brisbane Ranges national park alone, according to Parks Victoria."

So what can you do to walk more safely, and with more confidence?

Get Informed

Check out some of the great resources we have published for getting started bushwalking, and staying safe in the bush.

First Aid

Always carry a first aid kit. Even if you are not "going far" its very good advice to have it in your pack at all times.  Check out the list of basics for a good walking first aid kit.

Obviously, being first aid trained is the best way to know how to manage first aid, but did you know there are smartphone apps that allow you to look up almost any first aid scenario, and give you step by step instructions for providing first aid?  Here's some of the best:

St John's First Aid App

Red Cross First Aid App

Learn from those with more experience

The best way to learn to walk safely is to learn from those with more experience on the trail.  There are 60 bushwalking clubs across Victoria who can help you with just that, by walking with a group with many years of knowledge.  Many clubs offer "Try Bushwalks" where you can go along to a couple of club walks, and see if the group is for you.  Sharing bushwalks with others will build your confidence, and show you some amazing locations with some great people.  Find a club here.

Check the weather and emergency warnings

We live in Victoria.  They say if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.  Its not unheard of for beautiful sunny days to quickly turn into a very wet electrical storm, even flooding or a bushfire.  So it's important to be prepared for this.  The Bushwalking Victoria Walk Safely guide covers all this and more.

Don't forget to download the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) weather app, and the Vic Emergency app (set up an alert area for your walk location), to keep up to date with weather, and emergencies in your area.

Be prepared with clothing and water

It’s easy to think it’s only a short walk, and the sun is out, I don’t need a jumper.  Always pack for the scenario where you need to sit still for multiple hours, waiting for help.  Make sure you always have a waterproof/windproof jacket and a mid layer (fleece or puffer).  It’s always a good habit to carry a space blanket, or even better, a space bag to put your whole body in to keep warm, they take up little space, and should be in your first aid kit.   Always take more water than you think you will need.

Phones in an emergency

Not all parts of our wilderness has mobile coverage, so it’s important that you have a way to contact emergency services if you need to.  Read about using mobile phones, PLB’s and satellite tracking devices in the Bushwalking Victoria Bushwalking Manual:

Using your mobile phone to contact emergency services

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’S)

Satellite Tracking Devices with SOS (eg. Garmin inReach, Zoleo)

Tell someone your plans

It's important that you let someone trustworthy know where you are going, where you are parking, and when you expect to be home.

Research your walk

Do your research on what to expect on the trail, any closures, and read about the experiences of others - and do it using different sources, not just one review from Pete who said "its easy, my 2 year old did it in gum boots".  AllTrails and Trailhiking Australia are great resources, as are Parks Victoria, and Google reviews.

And please, PLEASE do not blindly follow the directions from Tiktok or Instagram!

Sometimes taking in so much information can feel overwhelming, but its a great investment in your own safety and confidence to be informed, and your future self with thank you when you get to that beautiful waterfall, or breathtaking ridgeline.

Stay safe, and Happy Bushwalking!

by Richelle Olsen, Executive Officer, Bushwalking Victoria

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Free TAFE – Cert IV in Outdoor Leadership – new eligibility

Have you ever considered a career helping others experience the great outdoors?  The Certificate IV in Outdoor Leadership is on the Free TAFE list in Victoria, and eligibility has been updated to include those who already hold a VET qualification or degree. This course is offered at Box Hill Institute (Box Hill and Lilydale), GoTafe Benalla, Holmesglen Institute Glen Waverley, Wodonga Institute of TAFE and Outer Eastern Training Institute.  More Details here.

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Do you find your self navigationally challenged? Or prefer to leave the navigation to someone else?

Walk with a Bushwalking Club!  Bushwalking Clubs have policies, processes and practices to ensure enjoyable and safe trips for their members. These typically include:

  • A Trip program (or calendar) that provides information on a varied walks suitable for the club’s membership. Some clubs may choose to focus on day walks, while others may focus on extended trips.
  • Trip leaders are appointed with appropriate skills and experience for the trip
  • New leaders are supported through formal and informal mentoring and training
  • Trips are well described and advice is readily available for intending participants to ensure that their decision to join the trip is informed. Some clubs use a trip grading system.
  • Experienced walkers on trips provide support for new leaders and new members.
  • Trip leaders check that intending participants have adequate skills and experience for a trip, especially on more challenging ones.
  • Club members have collective “local knowledge” of walking routes and areas from previous trips.
  • Emergency communications.  Some clubs have or hire emergency communications devices for club trips.
  • Incidents, accidents and near misses. Lessons learnt add to the experience and knowledge within clubs.

Training is provided by most clubs in skills such as navigation, leadership and first aid.

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Collective call on government to honour their promise to create new national parks in western Victoria, and stop logging them before this happens.

After decades of community pressure, in June 2021 the Victorian Government committed to three new national parks.  When created, the new parks will be the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, (near Daylesford), Mount Buangor National Park (near Beaufort) and the Pyrenees National Park (near Avoca).

But the Parks still need to be legislated to actually provide protection.  In the meantime, these proposed parks are being logged before they are created.

The Victorian National Parks Association is asking you to add your voice to an open letter to Premier Jacinta Allen, calling on the government to stop the logging in the west, and put the new national parks into legislation.

Get more information HERE.

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BTAC Activity: Duane Spur/ T Spur/ Cairn Creek Hut Track 26-29 October 2023

Remote Tracks Cleared

AAWT walkers and other hikers will be delighted that Duane Spur and T Spur in the vicinity of Mt Bogong are now much easier to traverse. It is now also easy to get to Cairn Creek Hut after BTAC volunteers spent two long days working with rangers from Parks Victoria to clear the tracks, repair the chain across Big River and do maintenance works on and around Ropers Hut.

On the afternoon of 26th October, 15 Bushwalking Tracks and Conservation (BTAC) volunteers and Parks Victoria ranger, Al, met at Falls Creek for a trip by 4-wheel drive vehicles to Ropers Hut where they set up camp. The following morning in sub-zero temperature, they formed three groups.

Most of the team at Ropers Hut

A small crew of three volunteers spent the day carrying out tasks within the immediate vicinity of Ropers Hut. The first was to identify, mark and clear the short section of the AAWT from the Big River Fire trail to the Ropers Hut Camp Site. This had become overgrown as hikers were continuing along the Fire Trail. The next project was to clear the overgrown water access track from the camp site to Duane Creek.

A group of 5 volunteers plus Ranger Al descended Duane Spur, crossed Big River and set about ascending T Spur, clearing as they went.  There was a considerable amount of brush-cutting and hedge-trimming low down on T Spur, while the chainsaw contingent climbed most of the way (approximately 2.5 km, ascending  540 metres) to T Spur Knob, clearing fallen timber.

The third group were joined by another ranger, Sam, and descended Duane Spur, clearing as they went, using brush-cutters, hedge trimmers and a chainsaw. There was a large log jammed against the chain spanning Big River, which was cleared with some ingenuity: the chain had to be cut, the log sawn, then the chain re-joined.

For both of these groups, there was a demanding walk back to Ropers Hut at the end of the day, ascending approximately 740

Clearing the walking track on Duane Spur

metres over 3.7 km, carrying the power tools. The hut crew had started preparation for the evening’s barbecue meal with ingredients kindly provided by Parks Victoria. All ate well and slept well that evening.

Saturday was another freezing morning.  Three volunteers stayed to do work on Ropers Hut. The maintenance works included installing a support beam in the roof, sanding and painting all the window frames, the door and the inside cooking bench. The front stone porch was repaired and concreted, and the surrounding earthen drains were reinstated.

Rarely visited Cairn Creek Hut

The other12 volunteers and, now, three rangers drove along Timms Spur in 4WD vehicles to Bogong Creek Saddle and walked along the Cairn Creek Walking Track as far as it was clear before commencing work to clear the, in places, heavily overgrown track, which ranger, Rich, had located and taped with pink ribbon the previous day.

The 2.5 km track goes to an old hut built to facilitate surveying the height of Big River where it is joined by Cairn Creek.  The track has been very difficult to walk for some years, being lost among fallen timber and overgrown by  bush.  Parks Victoria rangers had made a number of previous attempts to clear the track but the huge amount of work involved and the difficulty of identifying the line of the track had previously proved too daunting.

It took a very determined effort by the team involved but by the end of the day, there was a clear path all the way through to Cairn Creek Hut.  This was a really remarkable achievement and provided great satisfaction to everyone involved.  The 300 metre steep climb out of the valley provided another taxing end to the work, before the drive back to Ropers Hut.

Relaxing at the end of the day

Despite the freezing nights, the weather was pleasant for working.  There was a great sense of achievement and camaraderie from the 15 volunteers working with the three rangers as a united team.  The volunteers contributed over 300 work hours and spent over 200 hours travelling to and from the activity.

Before we drove back to Falls Creek on Sunday morning, we were already starting to plan another clearing activity in nearby country in a year’s time.

More photos can be found HERE.

(This report provided by John Green, BTAC volunteer and Project Coordinator.)