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Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Strategy

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Regional Catchment Strategy 2013-2019

4 Commuting Hills

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The Commuting Hills SES features the mountainous urban fringe of the southern and south-eastern Goulburn Broken Catchment. Large tracts of public land and small privately owned forested land remain over much of this area. Towns include Kilmore, Broadford, Kinglake and Marysville.

Traditional Owners shaped the land through fire and farming. Since then, the Commuting Hills SES has been cleared for agriculture and gold rushes and rail and road infrastructure.

Values, products, goods and services of this system

Ecologically this area is highly valued for the extent and connectivity of remaining unique forests and the rich diversity of species. Forests are also highly valued for the lifestyle they offer to people who live here, as well as the economic value created through intensive agriculture, forestry and recreation. These areas are of significant cultural value, with many Aboriginal sites remaining in these largely undisturbed landscapes. Waterways are highly valued for their pristine condition and the important service these provide; fresh clean water throughout the Catchment. Communities here value their diversity, vibrancy and energy.

The resilience of the Commuting Hills is about this system’s ability to maintain a state that provides these values in the face of change. This state underpins the future aspiration for the Commuting Hills: an area that safely retains its natural appeal and value for those living, working and visiting.

Biodiversity

The large areas of publically and privately owned forests are irreplaceable and rare, in this as other SES's. Vegetation clearing and timber harvesting has occurred here since European settlement. However, the classification of state parks in parts of this SES in the early 20th century have protected large forest ares and these contribute to its current classification of biodiversity to be in good condition. The major threat to this condition comes from intensive residential development in and around these forests and their existing and potential linkages. Pest plant and animal invasion and loss of understorey are threats to biodiversity here through invasion and therefore degradation of the forest blocks. Predominant EVCs include Grassy Dry Forest and Shrubby Dry Forest. These EVCs are considered endangered or vulnerable and contain significant biodiversity assets.

Terrestrial habitat - there are several important reserves, one of which is Mount Piper Education Area, which contains five species of Wallaby Grasses, among other significant flora and fauna species.

Threatened species and communities - this SES is important for populations of the nationally threatened large and small Ant-blue Butterfly and Golden Sun Moth, and Crimson Spider Orchid (endangered in Victoria and vulnerable in Australia). Other threatened species include Western Rat-Tailed Grass, Yellow Star, Slender Bitter Cress, Creeping Grevillea, Matted Flax Lily, Barking Owl, Powerful Owl, Diamond Firetail and Speckled Warbler.

Land

Land-use on public land includes extensive native forests, parks and production forestry. Lifestyle, intensive agriculture such as berry farming and aquaculture along waterways, with some grazing on cleared valleys and slopes are typical private land-uses. Soils here are shallow and finely structured with high organic matter.

The current condition of land and soils in this SES is considered good because of the extent of native forests; however, the 2006 and 2009 bushfires have impacted on soil health, in particular erosion. Land clearing is also a threatening process here. A decline in organic matter and acidification are also threatening processes. Pest plant and animal invasion is a threat to all land-uses; particularly at the public and private land interface. Examples of invasive species include Serrated Tussock, Gorse, Blackberry and Paterson’s Curse, foxes, dogs and cats.

Water

The remaining extent of forest contributes to healthy river ecosystems, which ideally provide constant yields of filtered high-quality water down the Catchment. Threats to waterways here relate largely to run off and water quality. Waterways are classified generally in good condition, however, as with soil health, fires affect water yield and quality. Water quality is under threat in this SES from invasive species in waterways, including European Carp. Priority waterway assets are:

King Parrot Creek: Supports the threatened Macquarie Perch.

Yea River: Supports the threatened Macquarie Perch.

Acheron River: Environmental Site of Significance.

Taggerty River: Contains ecologically healthy and representative reaches and supports the threatened Barred Galaxias.

Groundwater is the Commuting Hills SES is used primarily for domestic and stock supply and in some case for community/urban water supply (e.g. Kinglake). Climate change and variability, droughts and floods are key threats to water availability from aquifers, affecting recharge processes and baseflows to waterways and water quality. This is particularly the case in the Commuting Hills which (like the other ‘upland’ type systems) contain aquifer systems which respond over short timeframes to reduced rainfall recharge. Groundwater availability is also put under pressure from water demand threats, particularly pressure from development in the Commuting Hills.

People

Lifestylers, in commuting distance to Melbourne-based jobs and services, characterise much of the community of this SES. People are drawn to the area for its lifestyle and visual appeal, its commuting potential, and in some cases, for cheaper land prices relative to the Melbourne real estate market. Employment in this area is largely in the service sector. It will take a long time for many communities in this SES to recover from the impacts of the 2009 bushfires.

Many of the people living in this SES may associate more with southern landscapes, beyond the boundary of the Goulburn Broken Catchment. This may create challenges in getting the broader community involved in natural resource issues associated with overall catchment health.

Developing resilience of the Commuting Hills SES

Table 11 details what is needed to develop resilience in the Commuting Hills SES, building on needs best addressed at the whole-of-Catchment scale, which were listed in Chapter two.

Table 11. Adapting to drivers of change in the Commuting Hills SES*

Context

Management measure

Possible specific action (examples)

Although the Commuting Hills SES has large areas of native vegetation, land-use changes on private and public land (described above) are threatening to result in the crossing of several thresholds. Native vegetation’s ecosystem services (and threshold parameters to be managed) are the provision of:

  • biodiversity habitat (quality, patch sizes and corridor widths)
  • clean water (riparian buffer widths)
  • natural amenity (patterns of native vegetation).

Extreme climate variability has resulted in extreme drought, fires and floods over the last decade, impacting on this SES long after the event. This is exacerbating the impacts of land-use change and is placing an additional burden on rural communities, several of which have been stretched to breaking point.

Increased frequency of bushfires and drought, resulting from extreme climate variability, and planned fires are significant additional threats to aquatic biodiversity habitat and water quality (through increased soil erosion) and to terrestrial biodiversity habitat (loss of structural diversity).

The new buildings and infrastructure proliferating as part of land-use changes also need to be designed in the context of bushfires and floods, stemming from climate variability, so that economic and social values are not significantly impacted.

Strategic priority: Capture opportunities from land development

Plan land-use to minimise loss of biodiversity

Working with Murrindindi and Mitchell Shires to identify high value habitat assets and connectivity pathways to inform planning

Promote development, use and management of land that matches land capability (from different strategic priority)*

Mitchell Shire distributes information on biodiversity, native vegetation, weeds and sustainability through the Rural Landholders Kit and New Residents Kit. The Kit is sent biannually to all new landholders >2ha.

Promote broader community awareness and acceptance of practices to protect and improve the condition of the natural environment (from different strategic priority)*

Mitchell Shire Land Management Policy addresses land degradation problems; pest plants and animals, salinity, erosion, and loss of native flora and fauna. Eligible landholders receive rate reductions for land management practices that arrests land degradation that has off site and downstream effects

Manage public land to minimise loss of biodiversity

Work with Parks Victoria and landholders adjacent to parks to better manage the public/private land interface.

Strategic priority: Respond to and recover from climatic events

Plan and implement flood, fire and drought response and recovery

Contribute to the Hume Regional Emergency Management Committee

Strategic priority: Adapt to climate variability risks

Factor risks of climate variability and identify adaptation strategies in Goulburn Broken CMA plans

Identify areas of drought refugia, and work with research institutions to better understand the influence of fire regimes on various biota.

Develop public land fire management plans that consider loss of biodiversity

Input into a strategic approach to planned burning that considers ecological values

  * Notes on the table:
The table (and descriptions on the previous page) will be part of background information for consultative planning and implementation over the next few years, which will include decisions on how to keep the SES from breaching undesirable thresholds.
Significant uncertainties in setting desirable SES thresholds and measuring progress elevate the need for close collaboration between SES stakeholders when setting priorities.  Some key threshold parameters to be considered when making decisions are listed in the table (Appendix five includes a more complete list across all SESs, with some quantitative targets.)

Now the Mount Piper Conservation Reserve.

Hi Peter, Thanks for the update. We will make the correction. Please please keep the comments coming. We appreciate your effort.