Monitoring, evaluation and reporting in Loddon Mallee 2017-2018

In 2017–18, we continued to implement the landscape's monitoring, evaluation and reporting program, with a focus on monitoring changes in fuel after planned burns in high-priority areas. We also expanded the program to monitor the effects of fuel management on biodiversity.

During the year, we conducted pre-burn monitoring and overall fuel hazard (OFH) assessments of 18 planned burns at 207 plots: 10 burns in the Mallee district and eight in the Murray Goldfields district. We conducted post-burn OFH monitoring on all eight completed burns, at 79 plots: two burns in Mallee and six in Murray Goldfields. We postponed the remaining 10 burns — eight in Mallee and two in Murray Goldfields — due to unsuitable conditions.

Mallee district undertook fire-severity mapping, to map and digitise the fire severity of 14 burns planned for 7,406 ha and 13 burns conducted, over 4,537 ha. Murray Goldfields district captured aerial imagery to map and digitise the fire severity of 12 burns over 2,340 ha: four burns in spring over 636 ha and eight burns in autumn over 1,704 ha. On-ground fire-severity mapping was also completed for seven spring burns and five autumn burns.

In March 2018, we delivered field training in the use of the ArcCollector app to 18 Mallee district staff, providing them with the skills to do OFH assessments.

RMIT Remote Area Fuels Remotely Project

A key risk mitigation strategy in the Mallee district is to develop unbounded strategic breaks —burns without tracked edges — across the Little Desert, Big Desert Wyperfeld and Murray Sunset national parks. These strategic breaks are very remote, often have little or no edge contact with a formed track and range up to 25 km into the untracked wilderness areas of these large blocks of public land. It is important that we know how effectively unbounded strategic breaks moderate bushfires, especially when resource limitations prevent us directly attacking all fires started by lightning strikes in remote locations.

The project aimed as to identify a cost-effective method to accurately assess OFH in remote areas by:

  • developing a sensor method to capture imagery data for assessing OFH across these large, remote areas from either an uncrewed fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter, or a crewed aircraft
  • developing algorithms to interpret imagery data into a quantitative OFH assessment that is comparable with the metrics used statewide through the application of the Overall Fuel Hazard Guide.

The project demonstrated proof-of-concept for several remote-sensing platforms, but more work is needed to improve its feasibility for the vast Mallee landscape.

Big Desert – Wyperfeld Pitfall Project

This project will improve our ability to investigate the effects of fire on fauna and help us develop more-robust fire-response models for mammals and reptiles in the Big Desert Wilderness Park and the Wyperfield National Park. In late 2017, 125 pitfall traps were established in the two parks, to prepare for survey work in late 2018.

Box Ironbark Environmental Mosaic Burn Project – Floristics assessment

In 2017–18, we engaged consultants to undertake repeat vascular plant surveys in the 600 quadrats in 15 areas — six for autumn burns, six for spring burns and three for reference —  established for this project. This will provide another data point for post-fire comparisons of vegetation and flora recovery rates. Raw field survey data has been provided to us in digital format, but we have not yet analysed it.

Box Ironbark Environmental Mosaic Burn Project – Habitat structural assessment

As with the floristic surveys, the purpose of this project is to provide additional data for post-fire comparisons of vegetation and flora recovery rates. During the year, repeat habitat structural and tree measurement surveys were undertaken across 251 plots. This data will be analysed in 2018–19.

Fire ecology and management of the endangered Mallee emu-wren

The Mallee emu-wren Stipiturus mallee has had a major population contraction, which has resulted in the global population being largely restricted to one reserve complex in the Mallee. The key threat to this species is fire, and appropriate fire management is essential to reduce the extinction risk to this species and to promote its recovery. Fire management for this species requires detailed knowledge of the effects of fire and fire management activities on it.

This project, conducted in partnership with La Trobe University, identified the critical habitat driver for the species and demonstrated contrasting successional patterns of habitat features and the species at different elevations. It provided a greatly improved map of the species’ distribution and has identified parts of the landscape and localised spots that can support high densities of the species.

New fire-response models produced as part of the project show that:

  • the fire response of porcupine grass (Triodia scariosa) is different depending on the topographic position (as represented by elevation)
  • Triodia responses are also reflected in elevational differences in the fire responses of the Mallee emu-wren
  • the best Mallee emu-wren habitat is in the low-lying, sandy areas of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
  • the scattered nature of the small pockets of best Mallee emu-wren habitat throughout the park makes it difficult to use strategic fire breaks effectively, without negative effects.

This project is a major step forward in understanding and managing successional changes in Mallee ecosystems, and it has identified fire management actions to protect Mallee emu-wren populations from the effects of bushfire.

Page last updated: 19/10/18