For those following this story of riparian destruction from afar, Peter Marshall’s and Annie Duke’s insightful letters to our local paper (The Braidwood Times) drew an official press release from South East Local Land Services (BT 23/3/16). I’m now posting this SELLS response along with the excellent counter responses from Peter and Annie, both published in the BT of 30/3/16. For brevity, I won’t be commenting, although I have inserted some illustrative images for those unable to see the site for themselves.
“Monkittee Creek Willow Removal Works” (from BT 23/3/16)
South East Local Land Services has recently received inquiries from members of the community about remediation works currently being undertaken on private land which has included the removal of willows along a 380 meter stretch of the Monkittee Creek outside of Braidwood.
Acting Manager Land Services (Tablelands), Aaron Smith said Local Land Services was approached by the land manager about erosion on the site which has resulted in the project works.
“Mature willows which had previously provided protection to the stream bed and bank were becoming increasingly dense and have contributed to the erosion issues on site,” Mr Smith said.
“Erosion was exacerbated by the willows dropping limbs falling in stream and choking the channel this has led to significant flow diversions within the creek resulting in the creek widening and the bed lowering.
“Canopy closure had reduced sunlight penetration and vegetation growth around the willows further compromising the stability of the stream bank.
“South East Local Land Services understands that some members of the community would be concerned about the loss of natural and aesthetic values. It has been necessary to remove these willows because of erosion, their age and position instream.
“Their Impacts in this area of Monkittee Creek have reduced the stream’s stability and its resilience to large flow events. Erosion migrating upstream was threatening an adjacent floodplain and important farm infrastructure downstream including floodgates.
South east local land services, with funding from water New South Wales has constructed five stream bank and bed erosion control structures made of logs and rocks these structures will reinstate pool and stream riffle sequences and re-establish a chain of ponds system on site.
During autumn, 2000 native trees and shrubs will be planted and fencing will be installed to exclude stock.
“The fencing will assist the land manager to split paddocks into more manageable sizes to encourage the return of ground cover which will further stabilise the area,” Mr Smith said.
“The fencing has the added benefit of supporting the land managers ongoing efforts to control Chilean needlegrass this was an identified priority on the sites due to its invasiveness, potential for spread and economic and environmental impacts.”
“An additional 3000 trees will be planted on an adjoining property downstream in a fenced off riparian zone to further boost ground cover and establish ecosystems for native flora and fauna.
“These rehabilitation works will significantly improve water quality and flow by addressing the severe erosion and sedimentation that has been occurring in the Creek.
“Willow control is not a specific focus for local land services natural resource programs. However, where willows pose a risk to stream stability or water quality, willow control will be considered, Mr Smith said.
Peter Marshall’s counter-response letter to the editor:
“Response on destruction of Monkittee Creek” (BT 30/3/16)
Thanks to Annie Duke for eliciting a response from LLS about their destruction of Monkittee Creek.
LLS (Local Land Services) could have handled the issue a couple of ways. They might, for instance, have accorded a little respect to upset people, admitted that the project was misconceived and poorly executed, apologised and promised to fix the damage and involve the community next time. The LLS might then have retained a scrap of credibility.
Instead they chose to treat our community with contempt and insult our intelligence. The press release is a mess of conflation, confusion, cherry picking and opinion pretending to be fact.
At Uni our professors taught that just making stuff up and pretending it was real was for four-year-olds, not scientists. LLS disagrees.
I must now retrain myself from the idea that stream repair should be a gentle, thoughtful, successional process and adapt to the new LLS authorised tactic of expensive, brutal destruction.
To help us all understand the new thinking I have extracted some of the wisdom from the press release and LLS letter to Ms Duke [note: awaiting permission to publish]:
- Willows cause stream incision even though they were planted after the stream incision happened.
- Decades of heavy cows breaking down creek banks does not cause creek bank erosion, willows do.
- Big willows are full of hollows, perches and cracks where birds, bats, possums, frogs and lizards live. Turning these ecostructures into piles of ash is good.
- It is okay to burn micro-bats to death, their screams are too high pitched to hear.
- Willow root plates are full of hyporrheic galleries where crayfish, fish, shrimp and platypus live. Destroying this shelter is good.
- Willows cause shade which is bad because it suppresses ivy, privet and blackberries and keeps water cool and oxygen rich.
- Removing this shade is good because it allows ivy and 5000 plants (which have not been planted) to grow and warms up the water to favour tropical gambusia fish who kill native fish.
- Willows drop limbs and branches. This is called debris which is a bad word. It is not possible to pick up these branches with your hands and have a camp fire.
- It is necessary to pick up the whole tree with an excavator and have a huge fire.
- The 5000 plants (which have not been planted) will include special types of trees which never drop debris.
- Promising to plant trees later will control the massive sheet erosion caused by next week’s rains across completely unprotected bare soil.
- Removing big trees controls Chilean needle grass.
- Excavators, utes and boots on the site for a week will not pick up Chilean needle grass seed and spread it all over the Shire.
- Willows cause choking which causes ponds which is bad.
- Removing the willows causes a chain of ponds which is good.
- Willows trap sediment (bad) but the 5000 trees (which have not been planted and will be choked by ivy) will trap the settlement released when the willows are killed (good).
- If your floodgate is badly designed and doesn’t work in floods it is called infrastructure. You don’t have to fix it, just ask for money to kill some trees.
- The only species left onsite to knit the soil together is Phragmites reed. It is good for the council to kill it with herbicide.
LLS stands ready to give you $160 per metre of your creek line to do these fine things.
Please first check that they can indemnify you from the wrath of the DPI and EPA. LLS might think itself above the law, but individuals are not.
PA Marshall, Braidwood
Annie Duke’s counter-response letter to the editor:
“Response not clouded by nativism” (BT 30/3/16)
I write in response to the article “Monkittee Creek Willow Removal Works” (BT March 23). The content of the article repeats almost exactly the letter Derek Larson, South-East LLS General Manager, sent to me in reply to my open letter to SELLS (also BT 23/3). I challenge intelligent readers to extract some sense from this “reasoning” about why it was necessary to poison and remove every single tree along this 380 meter stretch of creek. A realistic appraisal—one not clouded by nativism—will reveal that willows do not cause erosion, rather they are a powerful tool for stabilising stream beds and banks. They build soil, filter water and provide habitat, both aquatic and terrestrial.
SELLS could have met all its stated aims and the land holder’s goals for stock and pasture management simply with fencing, tree planting, selective pruning and other targeted interventions. No poisons, no habitat destruction, no compromising of stream stability. Surely LLS should advise landholders on the best approach to natural resource management while representing the interests of the whole community, landscape and environment—particularly when dealing with riparian systems. SELLS maintain that willow removal is “not undertaken lightly” and “is not a specific focus” of LLS programs. It may not be “a focus” but it’s clearly their default position given any opportunity.
I wrote to SELLS seeking a proper scientific assessment and reevaluation of current Natural Resource Management, strategies policies and practices. Their nonsensical response failed to indicate that any scientific review regarding investment of public funds in these activities will take place. I take it this is only likely if community opinion is expressed loud and clear. I encourage people to share their thoughts with Mr Derek Larson at South East Local Land Services, level 1, 84 Crown St, PO Box 3095, Wollongong, NSW, 2520 and with the NSW Minister for land and water Mr Niall Blair and the Federal Minister for the Environment Mr Greg Hunt (contact via their websites).
Annie Duke, Braidwood