Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps


April 2011

Alphutte – alpine vandals

As a sub division within a snow gum woodland, developers at Dinner Plain, near Mt Hotham in the Victorian Alps, have done a good job of keeping as many mature trees as possible, whilst building houses and businesses quite densely. The ‘green’ aspect within the village is aided by the small bushland reserves that break up the housing.

Alphutte at Dinner Plain: bare earth where native veg existed. Introduced tree in background.

Guidelines require people to use indigenous species where they are putting in plants (Council guidelines say ‘only indigenous plant material can be used at Dinner Plain’), and lack of fencing has meant that small pockets of remnant understory also exist between houses. This enhances the feeling of still being in a forest.

However, Dinner Plain could be a very different place in coming years.

There is a disturbing ‘suburban creep’ that is evident, with a reasonable number of land owners now opting to destroy their remnant ground storey species and replace them with lawns.

In one obvious example of this, the people who run the Alphutte pizza restaurant recently completely removed all the remaining remnant understorey at the back of their block.

In spite of the fact that local indigenous species are meant to be planted at DP, Alphutte flout this law and have a large conifer growing as well.

While this was just a small patch of shrubs and flowers, if everyone at Dinner Plain destroyed their remnant vegetation and replaced it with lawn, and planted exotic (and potentially invasive) species on their land, the place would look profoundly different. There would also be substantial loss of biodiversity within the village itself. Dinner Plain is a small enclave of private housing within the Alpine National park, and weed invasion into the park is an obvious and, sadly, growing problem.

Often, these people retain most of the older snow gums on their properties yet don’t seem to understand (or care) that mature trees have to come from seedlings, meaning young trees must be put in to allow them to replace older trees when they do eventually die. The ‘clear the scrub and plant grass’ mentality and absence of new trees being planted will see a profoundly different village in coming years.

If poor environmental management upsets you, you may want to avoid Alphutte the next time you’re in Dinner Plain.

You might want to support Mountain Kitchen, which stocks local indigenous plant species.

Thankfully, the majority of people do seem to appreciate the remarkable landscape they are staying or living in, and do the right thing at Dinner Plain, by protecting or even replacing indigenous species.

A lacklustre environmental offering from the resorts for winter

Seems the wheels have fallen off the 'sustainability' bus

With winter almost in view, the resorts are announcing their highlights and new activities for 2011.

In Victoria, there are the usual snow making investment announcements and continued diversification of activities. At Falls Creek, the final stage of the Slalom Plaza redevelopment has been opened. Apparently Falls also has new aerial walkways, which take pedestrians through the village via a network of elevated stairways. At Hotham, in contrast, the main new announcement is some extra investment in snow making.

Mt Buller has put another $1 million into new snow guns and the snow grooming fleet.

However, on the environment front, I doubt I have ever seen such an un-inspiring effort.

In a rather bizarre move, some reports say that Buller now has a heated walkway from the Village Square up to the Ski and Snowboard School and the Buller Kids Centre. This would be great if Buller was pitching itself as a nudist colony, but most of us wear boots in the snow, and it seems like they must have money (and carbon) to burn if they think using energy to heat an outdoor pathway is a good idea.

Hotham is pushing air travel to get to the snow. Falls and Hotham continue to push the gas guzzling obscenity that is the 6 minute heli link ride so you can ski two mountains. Great for people with no values but a healthy credit card limit. Hotham runs kids snowmobile operations.  Mention of environmental initiatives seems to have disappeared almost completely from resort promotional material in 2011 (for instance, there is a one paragraph mention of environmental practise in this years 50 page booklet from Hotham).

Meanwhile, Falls has announced that 10 ‘brand new luxury Snowmobiles’ have been added to the tours fleet, allowing guests to ride or pillion on their own snowmobile into the ‘pristine backcountry’ of Falls Creek.

Not content with imposing their operations on ‘pristine’ areas within the resort boundary with last years tours run by Steve Lee, they appear to be wanting to increase their noise and carbon footprint with these new skidoos.

On the positive side, Falls has made access to their many groomed cross country trails free. Perhaps encouraging more people to get away from the resort will balance out some of the increased carbon footprint that comes with putting a bunch of new snowmobiles into the backcountry.

Lake Mountain has substantial new building infrastructure and snow making and needs support as it recovers from the devastating fires of 2009. Baw Baw stands out amongst the Victorian resorts because it continues to focus on its ‘green’ image.

Just a few years ago, environmental initiatives were reasonably prominent in a number of the main resorts. From actively spruiking the Keep Winter Cool behaviour change program to buying green power to run some of their tows, resorts seemed serious about reducing their ecological footprint. Sadly, that all seems to have evaporated this year. Rather than acting decisively to reduce their greenhouse footprint, most have gone all out to re-badge themselves as ‘year round’ resorts. That’s where the money has gone, into mountain bike trails and many out of season festivals and events. All of that is great, and a common sense way of stretching use of existing infrastructure. But the loss of responsible activity and leadership by resort management on the environmental front is deeply disappointing.

‘Environment minister keen to see chalet plans’

The following comes from the Bright Observer.

Journalist: EBONY D’ARCY

A BID to breathe new life into the Mt Buffalo Chalet continued last week with members of the Mt Buffalo Community Enterprise group meeting with the state environment minister.

Bill Sykes (MLA, Benalla) led a deputation made up of enterprise chair John Brown and directors Mark McKenzie-McHarg and Cameron McKern to visit Environment Minister Ryan Smith at Parliament House on Thursday.

The visit was part of the group’s bid to rejuvenate the 100-year-old building, which has been lying idle for more than three years.

The meeting was an opportunity for the group members to meet Mr Smith and familiarise him with their case.

Mr Sykes said the minister agreed that “something needs to be done”.

“The minister requested that once the group has their presentation ready for Parks Victoria, they also present it to him and Minister for Tourism Louise Asher,” he said.

“He was keen to see what the group comes up with.”

The group has until the end of May to develop a comprehensive project plan for presentation to Parks Victoria, which will include solutions for issues with energy and power supply on the mountain.

The aim is to have the go-ahead by September, which will allow detailed architectural planning, applications and governmental negotiations to begin.

Vic minister vows to continue alpine grazing trial

Ryan Smith says the trial will continue but they are still working on the details.

Snow gums, Mt Stirling

The Victorian Government has decided to return cattle grazing to the Alpine National Park next season, despite telling the Federal Government that they had no definite timetable for grazing trials to continue.

In January, 400 cattle were released into the park as part of a trial by the Victorian Government, to determine if grazing reduces the risk of bushfire.

However the trial did not have Commonwealth approval.

The Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has ordered the cattle out of the park.

However today, the Victorian Environment Minister, Ryan Smith, told ABC Local Radio the trial will continue.

“We just haven’t put together the details of how it will go forward. We’re taking a careful approach, we’re using the data collected over the last few months to inform the next stage,” he said.

“We also want to be very open and transparent so that when the plan is put together, when Professor [Mark] Adams is advising us on it, there will be a panel overseeing that, who can ask the questions that perhaps need to be asked.”

This article comes from the ABC.

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