Through fire and flood

Through this year’s fires and floods, rivers and bushland in the West Gippsland region have remained largely unaffected. 

The focus of much media and public attention has rightly been on areas devastated by fire. Supporting colleagues and friends in fire-affected areas has been a top priority for West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) staff. But as the crisis continues, we’re left wondering, just how important are unaffected rivers systems and habitat right now. 

“Extremely important,” is the answer provided by WGCMA CEO, Martin Fuller. “These fires through parts of Australia have been devastating. The combination of bushfires followed by heavy rain in some parts is a huge problem for rivers and waterways. Ash and debris can be washed into rivers from fire-affected catchments which can lead to fish kills.  

“This is extremely distressing to communities already hurting. We know how highly Gippslanders rate their natural environment – that’s why many of us choose to live here so to see the landscape damaged to this degree is extremely upsetting. 

“We’ve been lucky in the West Gippsland region not to have experienced fire yet this season. Meaning our river systems, remnant vegetation and bush have never been so important.”   

With airdrops of food for wildlife in eastern Victoria and southeastern NSW, the focus for the West Gippsland region remains on joining pockets of high-quality bush habitat through revegetation and fencing.  

“This provides corridors for wildlife to move away from danger and through the landscape safely. These corridors provide food and much-needed habitat to well-known species like kangaroos and koalas but also lesser-known reptiles insects and other mammals.”  

According to Mr Fuller, connected, healthy rivers provide aquatic species with a kind of wildlife corridor, enabling them to move up and down the river during their lifecycle 

We’ve been working hard for more than 20 years to connect our rivers from their headwaters right to the coast. These rivers have never been more connected, or more important because of the stress on other Gippsland rivers right now. 

“This connectivity helps build ecological resilience – that is improving the system’s ability to respond to disturbances such as fire and flood. This is like building up the river’s immune system. As humans, if we’re run down, we are more likely to become unwell if our immune systems are challenged – for rivers if they have low resilience they will not cope well with fire, flood and other challenges.” 

For fish species that migrate to the ocean and back to freshwater, Lake Wellington catchment rivers, like the Thomson and Latrobe rivers can offer safe haven for aquatic species.  

“On-ground works are continuing but another tool we use to support healthy, resilient rivers is water for the environment,” continued Mr Fuller.  

Freshwater flows support fish breeding and migrationIt also helps bankside vegetation by wetting and watering plants and flushes freshwater through to the Gippsland Lakes. We expect to be releasing water for the environment in Autumn to help build the resilience of these rivers.” 

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Published Monday February 17th 2020


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