A number of ANGAIR members expressed concern to the Committee of Management recently about the Strategic Firebreak work along the Great Ocean Road (GOR).

In particular, members expressed disappointment about the retention of non-indigenous trees (sugar gums), the thick layer of mulch which may prevent regeneration, the ripping—rather than trimming—of branches from existing trees and the amount of rubbish now mulched in and scattered by the machinery.

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ANGAIR Committee of Management and Flora and Fauna Interest Group members met with representatives of the Department of Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) the Surf Coast Shire (SCS) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) on site of the mulching works along the Great Ocean Road to discuss issues members have raised as to the extent and standard of the works.

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Dave Roberts, Otway District Manager, (DELWP/FFMV) acknowledged the ‘shock and awe’ felt by the community in response to the works. ‘The project is based on fire behaviour modelling and the known impact of fire on towns. Research points to the most effective fire management protection being carried out within a 3 km radius of the community to avoid a Mallacoota type situation occurring on the Surf Coast,’ he said.

‘Approximately 23 per cent of Victoria’s entire fire risk sits in the area between Torquay and Lorne, and … there are only 12-15 days on average in the Otways each year in which to burn.’ Nevertheless, he accepted the concerns about the standard of work done and committed to more rigorous monitoring of the contractors, and to a comprehensive audit following the works. The sugar gums were retained because there were, in fact no indigenous trees along that stretch and it is likely that they will be removed in the future and representative indigenous trees planted, of local provenance.

An environmental survey was carried out by Geelong-based Environmental Heritage Protection before work commenced. The ultimate aim is to achieve a grassy woodland effect like that already achieved on the south side of the highway opposite the Chocolate Factory. Contractors were asked to remove trees until they achieved 30 per cent canopy cover. Thick layers of mulch may be raked out (though no commitment was made by DELWP) and alternate year regimes of slashing and burning should encourage native grassland species. Future management of the roadsides will be by DELWP contractors not Regional Roads Victoria.

Dave Roberts confirmed there was both a budget and a commitment for appropriate post-program rehabilitation works. ANGAIR was encouraged to continue to document and provide feedback on how DELWP will manage these areas into the future. ANGAIR will be monitoring these sites independently of DELWP and will provide feedback where necessary.

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