Pon­der­ing preser­va­tion in the modern world

In 1966, Max Downes was the su­per­in­ten­dent of Game Man­age­ment and the fu­ture was bright as Vic­to­ria tack­led the is­sue of re­serv­ing habi­tat. How­ever, 50 years later, should we ques­tion whether the same en­thu­si­asm ex­ists for main­tain­ing habi­tat for hunt­ing?

Field and Game - - Game Reserve history -

Delv­ing into the treasure trove that is the Aus­tralian Na­tional Hunt­ing Archive, cu­ra­tor Max Downes re­cently came across a progress sum­mary he wrote half a cen­tury ago.

The re­port cov­ered: Wildlife Re­serves, ar­eas set aside and man­aged by the Fish­eries and Wildlife Depart­ment for the con­ser­va­tion of wildlife; State Game Re­serves, which were sim­i­lar in na­ture but were open for hunt­ing dur­ing Duck Sea­son; and, State Sanc­tu­ar­ies, which were cre­ated for the same pur­pose as game re­serves but were closed to hunt­ing at all times. “Be­cause le­gal duck shoot­ing dur­ing the open sea­son is not detri­men­tal to the wildlife con­ser­va­tion in th­ese ar­eas this ac­tiv­ity will con­tinue as in the past,” Max wrote at the time. “At this stage of the pro­gramme most at­ten­tion is be­ing given to swamps for the con­ser­va­tion of water­fowl. Due to drainage and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of swamps this is the sphere of great­est ur­gency.”

The re­port noted that the fly­ing black duck had been cho­sen as the em­blem sig­ni­fy­ing a State Game Re­serve.

The process of declar­ing a re­serve be­gan with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the wildlife and habi­tat and the op­por­tu­ni­ties to elim­i­nate detri­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties such as drainage and graz­ing.

A pro­posed man­age­ment plan was de­vised and in­cluded pro­jects such as wa­ter­ing, fenc­ing, planting of water­fowl food and cover, de­sign of ac­cess tracks and pro­vi­sion of pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

The plans were pre­sented to lo­cal clubs, re­spon­si­ble au­thor­i­ties and ad­ja­cent landown­ers and the ev­i­dence would be put be­fore a State Wildlife Re­serves In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee.

Max did not hold back in his ad­vice, writ­ing:

“It is es­sen­tial to se­cure the ar­eas and save the ex­ist­ing habi­tat be­fore it is fi­nally de­stroyed. “Once the ar­eas are safe, then the slower work of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and devel­op­ment can pro­ceed.”

At that point, three ar­eas had been gazetted and de­clared in the cat­e­gory of State Game Re­serve: Jack Smiths Lake in Gipp­s­land, Lake Coleman in the La­trobe Val­ley and Lake Gold­smith near Bal­larat.

Some in­ter­est­ing facts emerge from Max Downes' sum­mary, in­clud­ing this state­ment, which un­der­lined the ur­gent need for re­form: “Of 44 000 acres of duck swamp in the La­trobe Val­ley less than 4000 acres is on Crown land and at­tempts are be­ing made to drain the re­main­der on pri­vate land.”

The doc­u­ment out­lines a fur­ther 15 ar­eas that were un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by the in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mit­tee in­clud­ing Tower Hill, a vol­canic for­ma­tion cre­ated 30 000 years ago.

The erup­tion left the largest nested maar for­ma­tion in Vic­to­ria but as it pushed through the earth's crust it also forged a shal­low crater, which later filled with water to cre­ate the lake.

By 1966 an­i­mal and plant life was poor, and Koroit Bor­ough Coun­cil re­quested the es­tab­lish­ment of a game re­serve be in­ves­ti­gated.

Max wrote in his 1966 re­port that 1860s set­tle­ment and early agri­cul­ture had been “cat­a­clysmic” and the orig­i­nal pro­lific veg­e­ta­tion was de­stroyed in less than a decade.

In 1892, Tower Hill was de­clared Vic­to­ria's first na­tional park but the de­struc­tive uses con­tin­ued.

A cen­tury af­ter set­tle­ment the park needed sav­ing and among its saviours were hunters.

The Vic­to­rian Par­lia­ment ap­proved the cre­ation of a State Game Re­serve, which Max said: “…ap­pealed to the imag­i­na­tion of, and re­ceived con­sid­er­able sup­port from the lo­cal pub­lic, shooter and nat­u­ral­ist alike.”

War­rnam­bool Field & Game erected the first trial fences to keep out rab­bits and the Field Nat­u­ral­ists group from the same city pre­pared the ground to plant trees.

A ma­jor reveg­e­ta­tion pro­gram be­gan, largely guided by Out­look, an 1855 paint­ing by Vi­en­nese artist Eu­gene von Guer­ard.

By the 1980s, 250 000 trees had

been planted and the 60 species of birds sur­veyed in 1960 had grown to more than 160.

Hunters con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the suc­cess at Tower Hill, which is now a sig­nif­i­cant tourist as­set for the re­gion, and while there is duck hunt­ing dur­ing sea­son, it is not al­lowed be­tween 9 am and 5 pm each day.

It re­mains as a bea­con for what can be achieved when a value is at­tached to pub­lic land but it also stands in stark con­trast to the sta­tus, con­di­tion and man­age­ment of so many of our hard-earned State Game Re­serves.

In the 50 years since Max penned his progress re­port, one thing has not changed — the com­mit­ment of Field & Game Aus­tralia mem­bers to con­serv­ing State Game Re­serves is as strong as it ever was.

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