Expert fishermen near Canberra are happy to share the secrets of catching huge native fish that can be found sheltering within the habitat provided under willows. The trick is to fish in the winter when the willows are dormant and their dense protective canopies no longer shelter these fish from anglers or other predatory threats.
Who would know better where the biggest native fish (and the fattest, apparently) can be found than a madly enthusiastic, dedicated and experienced fisherman? These people spend countless hours in the field, year after year, avidly observing their prey and the environments which they prefer.
Given this, why does this article in the Canberra Times suggest that another bout of willow destruction along 50km of the Murrumbidgee will necessarily improve fish habitat and produce more fish?
As with most anti-willow stories there is no evidence or reasoning provided, just a barrage of simple negative statements. As I’ve pointed out before, you can make up pretty-much whatever you like about willows (anything you think you might have heard somewhere or that seems like it could be vaguely plausible), so long as it’s a totally negative assessment. Why not give it a try, everybody’s doing it!
Although our fishermen (from the link at the top of the page) regularly find large native fish in the habitat provided by willows, this article about fishing for trout (a non-native) in “Fish River” claims from the outset that “heavy infestations of willows” have led to a less healthy fishery. Curiously, it also happens to mention successive years of drought, notable siltation and “ever increasing” water extraction, which seem like they might also play a role in this situation.
Given these other factors, it would be interesting to know how and why the author has decided that the willows are a negative influence. It is clear that (like our native fish experts above) he/she is aware that willows provide good protection from anglers and other predators. In relation to one fishing spot in particular they state:
“The river is effected (sic) by heavy willow infestations, sand build-up and thick weed beds which can make catching fish a little harder. Try casting with shallow swimming lures or dry flies under trees in the shade where the trout have some cover and over weed beds in the deeper pools. The large number of willows make fishing difficult with fly gear. Spinning with celter’s and very small tassie devils is worth a try.“–(my emphasis).
It seems that the willows are an annoyance because they make the fish harder to catch, but it also seems that there are fish worth trying to catch among these willows–why mention this location otherwise? Doesn’t it seem odd that someone would claim the willows are a detriment to the fishery, whilst also admitting that they provide needed shelter for the fish?
Is it that easy to leap from annoyance because willows make it harder for you to catch fish, to the incongruous assertion that they are somehow harming the fishery?
By contrast, this editorial from the Weekly Times, asserts that willow removal is causing a drop in trout numbers in Victorian mountain streams. This would make perfect sense in light of the observations, provided above, of both native and non-native fish effectively utilising shelter provided by riparian willows. There are some interesting comments following this editorial. Enough negative points are raised to demonstrate that willow “management” is causing many less-than-satisfactory outcomes, and is not always well received by the wider community.
Where is the scientific assessment of present willow destruction? Why is it that no one is able to provide a consistent, compelling, clear, or objective analysis of the impacts, and yet the funding for removal continues to flow and Natural Resource Management (NRM) bureaucracies continue to send in the excavators?
Could somebody please turn off the money tap until we have some realistic and believable science? All I can find on the internet is opinion and official opinion. So often what is said is self-contradictory or is counter to my own observations.
Our elected representatives are happy to continue providing funding for these destructive “environmental” activities so long as there’s a perception that some sections of the community are keen to see the work undertaken. Unfortunately though, there are a large number of professionals whose livelihoods depend on nurturing these kinds of community opinions and promoting them widely. Read here, in one of my favorite ‘how to conduct willow lunacy’ guides, how insidious willow-removal-practitioners are encouraged to use calculated persuasion and bargaining tactics to sway resistant community members (page 19). You’d expect this kind of coaching in group psychological leveraging from a marketing company with something to sell perhaps, but this material is produced by our government. At the end of the day, the point is to overcome any conscientious community dissent which arises in response to what our bureaucracies are paid to achieve.
Read how in Narrowmine in 2011, anyone with a job at stake agreed that willows are bad for everything. Note that even the dramatic failure of major willow replacement projects (whilst providing opportunity for blame shifting between bureaucracies) somehow only reinforced belief in the reasoning and the method. Alternative views arising from the local community were belittled and discredited through simple (and logically fallacious) appeals to authority and given no consideration whatsoever; even when they consisted of obviously practical suggestions for project improvements in future–like establishing the new trees before wholesale destruction of the old!
The problem is that this suggestion wouldn’t really work within the existing project models, because most funding for willow removal projects is budgeted annually and actual re-vegetation could take 20 years (200 if you want to see native trees with hollows).
As an NRM organisation, you can’t acquit your obligations on these projects in an annual time frame except by going in with the excavators, smashing the willows all in one go (complete deforestation), and then planting some teeny-tiny little native tree seedlings. Whether these survive or not, at least you’ve already discharged the “re-vegetation” project and pocketed the money.
If any organisation held off on acquittal till the job of re-vegetation was actually finished they’d be waiting a long time past June 30. Maybe 200 years past June 30!
How did we get to this situation? It should be perfectly clear by now that reality is actually a lot more complicated than it’s being made out to be in regard to willow eradication. We have an unfortunate series of alignments occurring here: a pervasive perception of a degraded environment and a desire to do something about it (not bad things per se), coupled with the psychological need to single out and completely demonise one manageable component of the environment so that we can feel empowered. These psychological needs are made far more destructive by the acceptance and promulgation of willow demonisation by our NRM bureaucracies, who have to be seen to be doing something dramatic and important. After all, they’re the ones charged with protecting and fixing our environment, right?
Imagine if we didn’t have willows to provide a target-able ‘enemy of the environment’, what else would all those project managers, excavator drivers and chainsaw operators be doing?