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Giving Back part 2: the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group

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I recently posted about the need for people who enjoy the mountains to give back to the natural environment in some way. One great option is to join or support one of the many groups that do ecological restoration work or track maintenance. One group that certainly ‘walks the talk’ is the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group, who work across a range of projects in the Victorian High Country.

The following is a report on a recent project they completed on the Bogong High Plains.

For contact details on a range of groups, check here.

Roper’s Hut Track Repair

Seven members of the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group Inc. (VMLCG) travelled to Mt. Beauty late on Friday 7 March in order to take on a request from Parks Victoria (PV) to assist create a rock vehicle bridge to protect sensitive sphagnum moss beds which straddle the Management Vehicle Only track out to the iconic Roper’s Hut, burn in the 2003 fires and restored in 2009 by a community effort, headed by the Freemasons Victoria NE District.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This one is the end of work. Time is 1 pm

The team met Parks Ranger Elaine Thomas and contractor Kim, on Saturday morning at Falls Creek and after rationalising vehicles and loads to reduce track impact, travelled out to the Big River Fire Trail and Roper’s Track intersection.

Once fortified by an early morning team, the VMLCG team then walked to the site, and after a JSA and briefing on design and approach by Kim, commenced the work to excavate and create the crossing.

In all, around 4 cubic metres of existing material was moved to make two purpose built and rock-based wheel tracks for both PV and contractor vehicles required to access the hut site. The 4 cubic metres of 75 – 150 mm granite rock used to fill the wheel tracks was kindly donated to the project by AGL, the operators of the recently constructed Clover hydro power station and this kind donation is much appreciated and acknowledged. Without it, this work would not have been possible.

This one is the end of work. Time is 1 pm
This one is the end of work. Time is 1 pm

The VMLCG was originally tasked for two days but with the combined effort of the team and Parks Victoria rangers, the entire project was completed between 10 am and 1:30 pm on the Saturday – and after a quick lunch, the crew returned to Falls Creek and an early mark for the weekend!

The next phase of the project will be when the VMLCG returns with Fintona Girls’School to plant out around 450 alpine shrub species to stabilise the soil around the tracks and reduce their visual impact. It is expected in time, the spot will become barely noticeably and yet provide a much needed stabilising base for the occasional and required vehicle access.

We’ll let the before and after photos speak for the work done.

The VMLCG specialises in the development and delivery of remote area landcare projects and works collaboratively with a number of conservation groups on a diverse range of projects across Victoria. They can be reached via http://www.vmlcg.org.au

Partial demolition of Mt Buffalo chalet to start

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As a further development in the long running saga about the historic chalet on the Buffalo Plateau, The Weekly Times is reporting that the two accommodation wings on the chalet can now be demolished.

The journalist is Chris McLellan.

Iconic Mt Buffalo chalet to be saved by knocking some of it down

Image: SMH
Image: SMH

DEMOLITION works can proceed on the Mt Buffalo ­chalet after heritage protection ­orders were lifted.

Two wings will be knocked down to make way for a $7.5 million restoration and allow the chalet to be reopened as a day visitor centre.

Heritage Victoria granted the permit over the objections of the National Trust which supported efforts to restore the century-old chalet but not at the cost of about 40 per cent of the building.

The chalet closed in 2007.

There is still debate about whether the demolition works will need Federal Government approval as it is included on the National Heritage List.

A clearing sale of hundreds of items from the chalet will be held on May 4.

Heritage Victoria executive director Tim Smith said the permit would allow the main chalet building to be restored “to its former glory”.

Benalla MP Bill Sykes said work had started on the restoration with maintenance work well under way.

Expressions of interest closed this week for community representatives to oversee the redevelopment.

The Truth About (the Future of) Snow

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on The Razorback, VIC
on The Razorback, VIC

We have frequently run stories on Mountain Journal about the expected impact of climate change on the future of snow (and hence alpine environments, skiing/boarding, and the economies of towns reliant on the industry). Some of these include DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow , less snow – less skiers, Snow gone? US ski resorts see melting future, Climate Change and the Ski Industry – an Australian perspective, Alps could become snow-free by 2050

This recent piece comes from Powder magazine, and focuses on the situation in North America.

The Truth About Snow

An interview with the world’s top skiing climatologist, Daniel Scott

When it comes to the future of snow—and more importantly, the future of skiing—Daniel Scott is the man with the answers. Or, at least, the man with the possibilities. Will the Northeast have snow in 30 years? No. Will Colorado? Yes. Scott holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario—the first research facility in the world to comprehensively investigate the relationship between climate change and skiing, starting in the 1980s. Many of the computer models used in Europe today come from the university. Scott built his own model 10 years ago and has been using it ever since to predict what will happen to skiing in the next century.

When it comes to reading the future, Scott does not pull his punches. He co-authored a report that spelled the coming end of half of the ski resorts in the Northeast in the next 30 years. He also contradicted studies saying Colorado would suffer the same fate—saying that most climate models are done from a hydrology point of view, and leave out snowmaking in their predictions. The point being, Scott’s studies are scientific, without a conservative or progressive bent. And in a world flooded with misinformation, this is the kind of resource skiers need.

You can read the full interview here.

 

climate change and bushfires

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There is no doubt that our fire seasons are getting longer and more intense. Here in the south east, in terms of massive fires (greater than 250,000 ha), Victoria experienced two such events in the 19th century and five in the 20th century. In less than two decades, we have already had three mega fires in the 21st century. Many alpine areas have been burnt three times in the space of a decade.

There is no coherent overall response as yet by state or federal governments that outlines how we should respond to the growing interaction of climate change and wildfire. Sadly, our Prime Minister is in denial, having claimed that since ‘fires have always been part of our landscape’ there is no link to climate change. The Victorian state government has been challenged on the lack of attention to climate change in it’s approach to managing fire risk. Reducing fire risk is therefore about reducing fuel load and getting larger equipment , not about reducing greenhouse gas emissions or accepting that enhanced fire risk is the new reality for much of the country.

The following report, from Grist, outlines a different approach. The US government has released a strategy that aims to respond to the changing nature of fire threats. One aspect that especially interested me is the fact that it includes an approach that aims to ‘restore and maintain landscapes that are resilient to fire.’ In Victoria, we seem to be doing the opposite. There is a politically driven target that dictates that 5% of the state will receive fuel reduction treatment each year. This is in spite of the fact that some vegetation types don’t need burning to maintain ecological health, and others can become more flammable with the wrong fuel reduction approaches, and others are directly threatened by too much fire.

Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy

Wildfire
EricF2000

Like a tree in a greenhouse, America’s forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country’s shifting fire threats.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. “No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation,” the strategy states.

 

Despite covering 70,000 communities and 46 million homes, the strategy can be boiled down to guidelines that aim to do three main things: restore and maintain landscapes that are resilient to fire; brace communities and infrastructure for occasional blazes; and help officials make wise decisions about how and whether flames should be doused. Here’s what that all looks like in flowchart form:

Click to embiggen.

“As climate change spurs extended droughts and longer fire seasons, this collaborative wildfire blueprint will help us restore forests and rangelands to make communities less vulnerable,” said Mike Boots, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

snow season forecast – 2014

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some good conditions from last year. Early July 2013, Mt Loch, VIC
some good conditions from last year. Early July 2013, Mt Loch, VIC

Once the weather starts to cool down in southern Australia, something interesting starts to happen to this website: traffic to the ‘sidecountry’ skiing and boarding guide to Mt Hotham starts to climb, peaking in early June.

Its that time of year where we can almost smell the snow and are locking in trips. While this rain has been good, its still really warm. So, what type of winter do we have coming? After last years boom-and-bust cycle of good snow alternating with warm air and rain, lets hope its more consistent. The media is warning of a strong El Nino event this winter, meaning warm and dry conditions. The much trusted weather guru, The Grasshopper who writes for Mountain Watch recently released their initial forecast for the 2014 season.

Amongst some interesting analysis of what an El Nino event actually means, the bottom line on forecast is:

More likely than not we will have a mediocre to above average season and there will be plenty of opportunity for fresh provided you are ready for it. But even if things tend towards the lower end of the scale, my gut tells me we will be compensated by plenty of cool clear nights with copious amounts of snow making to keep the groomed areas looking tip top.

Read the full report here.

And keep checking Mountain Watch for an update closer to June.

Fingers crossed!

In praise of huts

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Tawonga Huts, Bogong High Plains, VIC
Tawonga Huts, Bogong High Plains, VIC

Huts in the mountains can be a vexed issue. Huts will tend to attract people and so tend to concentrate visitation within a larger area. As one example, most people who climb Mt Bogong tend to then turn towards Cleve Cole hut rather than head across to the Hooker Plateau. This tendency to influence visitation can be both good and bad.

They are part of the cultural history of the high country, and reflect major stages in the post colonisation era: cattle grazing, forestry, hydro, even fire watch towers and, more recently, huts built for recreational purposes. We also have a number of strange and random anomalies, ones that don’t really make sense: Craig’s hut near Mt Stirling as an example, which was built as a set for a film. There are, of course, those whose primary function is safety, such as Seaman’s hut near Mt Kosciusko, and huts that belong to clubs or even schools (Geelong Grammar on Mt Stirling).

I have always tended towards the position that we don’t need more huts in the high country. With incremental pressure as ski resorts increase their footprint and the risk of private developments within Victorian national parks and the precedent of private enterprise in a number of Tasmanian parks, I don’t think we need more infrastructure. There have been some hut removals that make ecological sense (such as Albina Lodge, above the western slopes of the Main Range in the Snowy Mountains). I certainly understand the need for huts in strategic spots for safety. And I do appreciate the history of these places, the incredible work of getting materials into hut sites in the early days and the bush skills of the builders. I love the work of Klaus Hueneke, who has chronicled the heritage of the huts.

the hut at Lake Nameless
the hut at Lake Nameless, Central TAS

With the rise in wildfire over the past decade, we have lost many of the iconic huts. There have been some excellent rebuild efforts, such as Michel’s at Mt Bogong. The Victorian High Country Huts Association was founded after the major bushfires of February 2003, to try and preserve remaining huts. Some huts are looked after by organisations and this can give people a strong connection to ‘their’ hut, and various groups exist to look out for huts in general (partial list below).

For me, it’s a rare thing to find a hut that is more appealing than a tent, but amongst my favourites are Seamen’s and the ‘Schlink Hilton’ in the Snowies, Vallejo Gantner at Macalister Springs, Cleve Cole on Bogong (of course), and the hut at Lake Nameless in Central Tasmania. I love the location of the ridiculously ugly house on Mt Wills.

For hut fans, we have recently been posting photos on Mountain Journal’s facebook page. Please feel free to join in and post your favourite pics.

the hut at Newgate Tarn, TAS
the hut at Newgate Tarn, TAS

I recently spotted the article below, highlighting the value of the ‘secret’ hut stash around many resorts, the little known hang out spot. I remember a rough hut that lasted several years on the northern slopes of The Bluff in Victoria which was popular with some backcountry skiers and boarders. I went to look for it one spring and it was gone (it had been tarp and pole heavy, more a glorified camp than a hut).

What I loved about this article is that it highlights that for all of us who use huts, there are personal and social memories that build up: of friendship, adventure, good dinners, long and late night conversations with strangers. I held my 30th birthday at Vallejo Gantner hut and have spent the last 4 new years at Bluff Spur hut on Mt Stirling with a big gang of friends. Part of the cultural – as opposed to technical – history is preserved in log books and, increasingly, on line. For instance, check the newsletters from the Mt Bogong Club, who have been looking after the Cleve Cole hut since 1965. In many countries there is the tradition of the hut warden, which can add to the sense of hut culture. I like the short film Winters of my Life, an appreciation of the decades-long service of Howard Weamer, who for the past 35 years has spent his winters as a hutkeeper in Yosemite’s backcountry.

Twilight Tarn, TAS
Twilight Tarn, TAS

Shacktivities

From Powder magazine.

Secret stashes, shacks included, are a part of skiing in the same way that early mornings and long drives are. If you are dedicated you will have yours, you’ll know the good ones, and the people to share them with inbounds and out. People who love the mountains cultivated them, probably long before you got there.

 Some contacts

Kosciusko huts association.

Victorian High Country Huts Association.

Giving back

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IMGP7211While on a recent walk in Mt Field national park in Tasmania, I was struck by the amount of track work that had been done in the four years since I was last there. Much of this is in the fragile areas from Negate Pass through to K Col.

I was reminded of the fact that track work can be incredibly aesthetic. In Tasmania there have been various stages in creating and stabilising tracks, with less use nowdays of locally cut timber, in favour of treated pine and lots of boardwalks. This is never very nice looking in it’s own right, and often needs helicopter lifts to get to remote areas, and hence has a higher environmental impact than locally cut wood. But the stone work in many places, including Mt Field, is fantastic. Thanks to the Parks Service workers, contractors and volunteers who have put in so much effort for so long to stabilise the track network in the mountains.

Although I have walked in remote areas since I was a teenager, I sometimes found track works an intrusion on my enjoyment of wild landscapes. Of course, I eventually realised that in popular – and especially alpine areas – they are a necessary part of reducing impact, by channeling what otherwise may be a myriad of smaller braided trails into a single pathway.

Then the poet Gary Snyder introduced me to the idea of track construction, of laying stones and other trail stabilisation as meaningful work, a way for us to interact with the wild. His poem Riprap and other works constantly remind me of that. Track building is a subtle, low impact way to engage mindfully with landscape.

 

Lay down these words

Before your mind like rocks.

placed solid, by hands

In choice of place, set

Before the body of the mind

in space and time:

Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall

riprap of things:

Cobble of milky way,

straying planets,

These poems, people,

lost ponies with

Dragging saddles—

and rocky sure-foot trails.

The worlds like an endless

four-dimensional

Game of Go.

ants and pebbles

In the thin loam, each rock a word

a creek-washed stone

Granite: ingrained

with torment of fire and weight

Crystal and sediment linked hot

all change, in thoughts,

As well as things.

IMGP7470As we walked out from a fantastic trip, I was reminded that helping out on working bees to stabilise tracks is a great way of giving back to the places we love. If you live in Tasmania, you may want to get involved with Friends of Mt Field, a volunteer group that does much of the track work there. But where ever you are there will be a group doing this type of vital work. You will find some contacts here.

Check the Friends of Mt Field site here.

 

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