Catchment plans and fire control – raise questions of faith

Last Thursday, I dropped into the Council/OE&H drop in information session about Cuttagee catchment. It was soon apparent that the stated aim, to ‘ target environmental issues within the estuary and catchment’, had yet to progress beyond the estuary stage. On the basis that this progression may occur, I mentioned the extensive canopy die-back maps produced by Forestry for the catchment and region generally. Also Forestry’s observations that ” . . . In Bega Valley Shire, on the south coast of New South Wales, every near-coastal drainage system contains bellbird dieback.” (Jurskis and Turner, 2002)
The chap from Council suggested they could have brought along a map of the catchment. However, based on the information being employed, it would probably be similar to the 2010 Wapengo catchment plan map below. The Environmental Management System associated with the map, doesn’t mention die-back either.
Due to this arguably limited approach, confidence that major issues will be identified in any catchment plans may require an act of faith. Compounding the issue is the long term inability to acknowledge soil dispersion and its association with die-back.


Coincidently, some associated research on the vascular traits of eucalyptus has recently been published in Ecology Letters. Unlike other species, the research found eucalyptus trees ‘cannot quickly adjust the size of their water transport vessels to cope with variability in water supply’. This limitation makes them ‘vulnerable to extreme heatwaves’ and leads to the ‘risk of developing air bubbles in their vessels’.
If this outcome was linked with soil dispersion and the associated reduction in soil Water Holding Capacity, a reasonable person might consider trees turning brown and dropping dead, during quite short dry spells, a realistic outcome.
Of course when the forests are brown, the potential for a hot fire is very likely to increase. So it was interesting to read NSW emergency services minister David Elliott’s comments regarding the Rural Fire Service. In essence ” . . . that the service needed more qualified salaried people and that it wouldn’t be too long before he could do away with the Dad’s Army of the VFA.”
While the politics of the comment are complex, when it comes to quick fire suppression I’d rather place my faith in the Friends of Oolong proposal for night equipped air-cranes. Along with the Hercules fire fighting tankers, currently being trialled in NSW.






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