RFS bulldozes Six Foot Track

Background

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On  Thursday 7th  July 2005, while volunteering as Honorary Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, the editor took a phone call at the Colong office from a Medlow Bath resident, who reported in that the Rural Fire Service had extensively graded the Six Foot Track in late June 2005.    In the resident’s opinion the grading had occurred to such an extent that substantial damage had been caused to native flora, riparian zones and so warranted community reaction.

That same day I contacted the legal manager of the Six Foot Track, Jon Guyver of the Lands Department, based at Orange and heard his view, learning that the grading was requested by the Rural Fire Service and authorised by the Trustee using grant funding from the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS).  I then phoned Greg Wardell, acting BM head of the Rural Fire Service to hear his view.  In each case there is a strong sense of righteousness in the grading.  The justification for the grading was to create a Primary Fire Trail, but this RFS action breached many of the conservation provisions of Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan 1997, including the Policy 7.2 (d).  [Refer References below].

On Sunday 10th July at the resident’s request I undertook a first hand inspection of the track, using topographical map ‘Katoomba 8930-1S’ and proceeded to Grid square 66 South, 48 East, which shows the Six Foot Track following the winding Megalong Creek south-westerly.  On return that evening, I emailed the following report to the Blue Mountains Conservation Society’s Land User Officer:

“Noticeable evidence of grading activity starts at a bend in the track NE of the words ‘SIX FOOT TRACK’ .  There is the remains of a stone fireplace here, as well as bush and topsoil graded into the bush toward the creek.  Between this site and the concrete bridge at Devils Hole Creek I counted 6 fresh mitre drains.  Between Devils Hole Creek and the locked gate [Grid Ref  642458] passed the horse paddocks, I counted another 15 fresh mitre drains, before reaching Corral Creek.  I didn’t continue west beyond Corral Creek.

There are three obvious environmental impacts from this bulldozing activity:

  1. Over-clearing of bushland
  2. Leaving topsoil exposed to rain and erosion
  3. Grading bush and topsoil into the Corral Creek

The disregard and disrespect for Aboriginal culture in the area appears to have been totally ignored/discounted.  You are very right in bringing this issue to the attention of the public, stakeholders and authorities.  Your efforts deserve recognition by the Blue Mountains conservation community.

Having this primary data, I agree that this environmental destruction deserves to be made very public and the process abuse exposed.  The voluntary RFS are not a law unto themselves.  RFS culture needs a wake up call to its unchecked environmental accountability.”


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On Sunday 17th July, the Land Use Officer of the local Blue Mountains Conservation Society drafted a letter to the General Manager of the Blue Mountains Council which read as follows:

RE:  Nellies Glen Rd – Six Foot Track  – Breach of development consent conditions

“The Society wishes to raise  two questions about the recent  work undertaken on a section of  Nellies Glen Road, which forms part of the Six Foot Track.  The section in question is:

Legality of  Re-location of a section of Road

    • A section of the road was rerouted.  Extensive clearing has been undertaken.
    • It does not  appear that  the Dept Lands is exempt from the provisions of the LEP  when  widening or re-locating a road.
    • LEP 91 clause 17.7 exempts the Crown from  “carrying out of any development required in  connection with the construction, reconstruction, improvement, maintenance or repair of any Classified Road, except the  widening, realignment, or relocation  of such road”
Furthermore as the Six Foot Track  is listed in Schedule 2 of LEP 91 as Heritage item MG6,   Clause 25 applies.Clause 25.1 statesA person shall not, without the consent of the Council, in respect of  a  building work, relic, place or tree that  is  a heritage item  –

(a) demolish  or alter the building or  work; or   …..

(c) damage or despoil the place or tree; or

(d) damage or remove any tree or horticultural features on the land  on which the building, work, or relic is situated or on the land  which comprises the place.”

Did council give consent to the widening and re-location of the section of the Six Foot Track?   If consent was given, was  a heritage assessment undertaken?   If  no consent was given,  what steps does council intend to take to penalise the land manager and/or to require  restoration?

Pollution of Watercourses

The Society understands that Council  has regulatory powers to enforce the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

We request that Council investigates the

  • Excavation of mitre drains within 10m of creeklines
  • Extensive clearing of vegetation around the constructed within  20m of watercourses, causing  sediment to  flow into the  creek.”
 

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‘RFS Bulldozes Six Foot Track’

[written by editor and published in the Blue Mountains Gazette, 27th July 2005].

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Six Foot Track, Megalong Valley
Photo © 2005 L. Mitchell

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This is what a bulldozer can do midweek when nobody’s watching.

The Six Foot (Bridle) Track is a State icon, first negotiated on horseback in 1887 as a shortcut from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. The track is ‘protected’ under the Central Tablelands Heritage Trust by the Department of Land and Water Conservation.  The area holds important Aboriginal cultural value.  The Track passes through a significant River Oak Forest vegetation community and the topsoils along this river valley are particularly sandy, and once exposed are highly susceptible to erosion and weed infestation.

RFS choice of contractor has bulldozed the heritage Six Foot Track out to a 66 foot speedway and fresh mitre drains to channel the new runoff problem into Megalong Creek.  Once the rains come and the exposed topsoil’s washed into the creek, flat chance the bush’ll come back.

This is not fire trail ‘maintenance’. This is road making.  How ‘strategic’ anyway is a track deep in a bush valley over two kilometres from Katoomba?  Strategic for arsonists perhaps.  Anyone else would need development consent to bulldoze bush – and probably would be rightly rejected.  The privileged exemption status granted to the RFS is for times of emergency.  It is not a carte blanche for cowboy contractors.

This sad muddy bog left at the Corral Creek crossing is testament to the loose procedural controls of the bushfire committee.  Such actions cannot help the RFS’ otherwise high community standing.

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Aboriginal stone artifact found along the recently graded Six Foot Track July 2005.
Photo © 2005 L. Mitchell
 

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Following the publishing of my letter,  correspondence from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society’s (ConSoc) Land Use Subcommittee, of which I was an active member, when silent.

My email to the Subcommittee on 14th August read as follows:

Re: LUC Meeting Item 2 ‘Firetrails

“Can someone please advise what actions may have been taken since the RFS bulldozing events in late June on the Six Foot Track (SFT) and on the track
on Fairy Bower Reserve at Mount Piddington (and possibly other bush tracks we are yet to find out about).

The minutes of the LUC August meeting indicated that ConSoc is to write to RFS “again”, so this suggest correspondence has already been made.  I would appreciate any copies of correspondence please.  What was the outcome (agreed actions) of the midweek meeting between ConSoc, >the RFS and trustee Jon Guyver back on or around 14 Jul 05?

Has the RFS agreed to remediate the bulldozing of the SFT site with endemic plantings, sediment controls?


Has the RFS or Jon Guyver been able to provide any minutes or correspondence regarding the decision making of the bushfire committee to authorise the bulldozing in June?

The silence on this has been ‘Council-esk’ and no public comment appears forthcoming from the RFS.”

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Regulation of the Six Foot Track

“As per the previous LUC meeting on 13 Jul 05, I have enquired into the possible existence of a trust deed governing management and legal conditions concerning the control of the Six Foot Track.

The Land Department Office in Orange confirms no trust deed as such exists, but rather the SFT is governed by a Reserve Trust under the provisions of
the NSW ‘Crown Lands Act 1989’ and ‘Crown Lands (General Reserves) By Law 2001’ as Reserve No. 1001056.

Jon Guyver is the official administrator of the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust and he has provided me with a copy of the relevant sections of the Act, a complete set of the By laws applicable to the SFT and the Six Foot Track Conservation Management Plan Volumes I and II.  The latter cost me $22.  Lyn has indicated that she already has a copy of the Plan of Management – I assume this is the same. Volume I is 137 pages and Volume II is 142 pages.  I am presently reading through Volume I.

From my reading so far, the bulldozing breaches the Management Plan’s ecologically sustainable development principles,  although “the plan is
intended to serve as a guide to conservation and management of the entire Track, but is not a statutory plan which is binding” (Vol. I, p 8).

Jon says he is commissioning an updated version, so I suggest it would be useful for ConSoc to participate in the drafting of this updated version.”

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[No answer was received from ConSoc, yet on 16th August the editor received a warning from a leading figure within the ‘conservation movement’:  “Please do not cast aspersions against RFS people in Con Soc.”]


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Then on Tuesday 23rd August, the editor emailed the following researched feedback to the Blue Mountains Conservation Society:

“All,  Way back on 7-Jul-05, a call was made to the Colong Foundation advising that the Six Foot Track had been severely bulldozed near Megalong Creek.  As a member based in Katoomba, I have followed this up, along with enquiries by other ConSoc LUC members.

I proceeded to acquire first hand information, walked to the site and have obtained extensive documentation from the trustee on the Plan of Management
and legislation governing the Track.   I am still yet to find out what actions others have taken.  I am still yet to receive a response to my email below.

Avid Gazette readers may have come across a small press release from someone in the Gazette’s Mountain Murmurs on 13-Jul-05.  After no news, I submitted
my letter of 27-Jul-05 alerting the Mountains community to inappropriate destruction of native habitat and important heritage values of the Six Foot Track [the editor changed my heading].  The thrust of my message was to try to highlight the cause of the problem in an effort to prevent it re-occurring.  I referred to the “loose procedural controls of the bushfire committee.”  Last week, three mixed response letters arrived, one targeting the contractor, but all ignoring the problem source – the actions of the bushfire committee.  Still no public statement has come from the RFS, despite this public call for accountability.

I note that ConSoc’s latest Hut News (Aug-05, p3) contains a useful account of the “informative gathering” on 21-Jul-05 by representatives of various stakeholder organisations agreeing on the need for rehabilitation work.  But what is still unaccounted for are the actions of the bushfire committee. 

Is this bushfire committee made up of these same representatives?

Well, in the absence of feedback, I have continued my investigations and discovered that the underlying cause is the Bushfire Mitigation Programme
of the federal government Department of Transport and Regional Services.  I direct you to the following website, the introductory extract and the
attached spreadsheet that lists the following ‘Fire Trails’ in the Blue Mountains for targeting as well as another undisclosed areas of the Blue Mountains National Park.

Question is, have all these locations been subjected to similar bulldozing that we don’t know about yet?

The Six Foot Track bulldozing is a drop in the ocean.  The RFS Bushfire Assessment Code refers to complying with the >principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development, which seems nothing more than greenwashing.

Reserve / Activity Name    Treatment Area (km)    NSW Allocation

  • Cripple Creek Fire Trail Stage 2    5kma   $15,000.00
  • Cripple Creek Fire Trail Complex    5 km   $10,909.09
  • Caves Creek Trail    0.4 km   $5,000.00
  • Edith Falls Trail    2 km  $2,040.00
  • Boronia Rd – Albert Rd Trails    1km    $1,360.00
  • Perimeter Trail – North Hazelbrook    1.5km    $1,360.00
  • McMahons Point Trail – Kings Tableland    7km    $1,000.00
  • Back Creek Fire Trail    3.2 km   $816.00
  • Mitchell’s Creek Fire Trail    3.5km    $204.00
  • Northern Strategic Line -Primary    8km    $11,000.00
  • De Faurs Trail – Mt Wilson -Primary    2.8km    $7,540.00
  • Mitchell’s Creek Fire Trail – Primary    3.5km    $1,836.00
  • Nellies Glen Fire Trail    2.8 km   $1,360.00
  • Back Creek Fire Trail – Primary    3.2km    $1,224.00
  • Mt Piddington Trail – Hornes Point    N/A    $950.00
  • Blue Mountains NP    42 km   $15,246.00
  • Blue Mountains NP    8.3 km   $3,000.00
  • Blue Mountains NP    23 km   $8,350.00
  • Blue Mountains NP    10 km   $18,000.00
  • Blue Mountains NP    12 km   $45,000.00.

SOURCE:  http://www.dotars.gov.au/localgovt/bmp/docs/NSW_BMP_Projects_04-05.xls

The site goes on to explain:

“Fire trails are important resources in the facilitation of prevention and mitigation works. An effective fire trail network increases options available in implementing hazard reduction to protect communities and their social, cultural, environmental and economic assets.

In September 2004 the Prime Minister announced the allocation of $15 million for a Bushfire Mitigation Programme, over three years, for the construction, maintenance and signage of fire trail networks to assist local communities to better prepare for bushfires.

About the Programme

The Bushfire Mitigation Programme is a national programme aimed at identifying and addressing bushfire mitigation risk priorities across the nation.  It funds construction and maintenance of fire trails and associated accessibility measures that contribute to safer, sustainable communities better able to prepare, respond to and withstand the effects of bushfires.  The specific objective of the programme is to enhance the effectiveness of fire trail networks and as a result increase the:

  • Safety of fire fighting personnel involved in a fire suppression effort;
  • Rapidity with which fire suppression agencies are able to access a fire; and
  • Type of resources that can safely be made available to a fire suppression effort.

The programme is administered by the Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services. “

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[Again, no answer was received from ConSoc.]



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‘Six Foot Track Abused’

[Published by the editor in the Blue Mountains Gazette, 31st August 2005, page 12].

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The June bulldozing or grading of the Six Foot Track near Megalong Creek was not only wrong, unnecessary and excessive; it breached the statutory provisions of the Crown Lands Act 1989 under Crown Lands (General Reserves) Bylaw 2001, which prescribes rules for the Track’s environmental protection, heritage and public recreation.

For instance, By-law 23 (2) (n) prohibits conduct in the reserve involving defacing or removing or disturbing any rock, sand, soil, stone or similar substance.  It appears no written consent was provided by the Trustee of the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust to the RFS.

The bulldozing also breached the Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan of 1997 (two volumes totalling 279 pages).  Section 2.1.1 prescribes the need for ecologically sustainable development principles to be followed for all management and planning associated with the Track.   Bulldozing or grading is not ecologically sustainable.  Policy Statement (7.2) (d) states that the physical elements of the Track including examples of the original alignment, works and sites of Aboriginal and European significance and remnant stands of vegetation should be retained and conserved wherever possible.  Numerous threatened species of flora and fauna are recorded as likely present in the Six Foot Tack environs and are listed in Volume I of the Plan.  The Plan also states at Section 8.2.5 that “Where development consent is not required an environmental impact statement should be undertaken where there is likely to be an adverse impact on the environment.”

The Plan proposes the following general management objectives for the Six Foot Track:

(1)    To ensure that all management decisions fully recognise the considerable cultural and heritage significance of the Six Foot Track

(2)    To seek to recover and retain the Track’s original character by the preservation and restoration of identified sites and Track features.

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Reader feedback at the time:

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RFS Strategy Misguided

[Published by the editor in the Blue Mountains Gazette, 5th October 2005]

It has been revealed that the June bulldozing or grading of the Six Foot Track near Megalong Creek was a mere drop in the RFS Bushfire Mitigation Programme.  Across the Blue Mountains, some twenty natural reserves including the Six Foot Track were targeted under the RFS 2004-05 fire trail strategy – Edith Falls, McMahons Point, Back Creek Cripple Creek plus some 95 hectares inside our National Park.  According to the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) website, $151,195 was granted to the RFS in the Blue Mountains alone, bulldozing 144 hectares of bush in the name of “addressing bushfire mitigation risk priorities.”

The Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan 1997, Vol II lists numerous vulnerable species of fauna recorded near Megalong Creek – the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Clyptorhynchus lathami), Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus), Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus).  The RFS contractors wouldn’t have had a clue if they were within 100 metres or 1 metre of rare, vulnerable or threatened species.

The RFS is not exempt from destroying important ecological habitat; rather it is required to have regard to the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD). Yet the RFS policy on hazard reduction is woefully loose on the ‘Bushfire Co-ordinating Committee Policy 2/03’ on ESD – advocating protection of environmental values and ensuring that ESD commitments are adopted and adhered to by contractors.  Experience now confirms this policy is nothing more than ‘green-washing’.

The critical value of dedicated RFS volunteer fire-fighters fighting fires is without question. What deserves questioning is the unsustainable response of the RFS ‘old guard’ to fire trails and hazard reduction with token regard for sensitive habitat.  Repeated bushfire research confirms that bushfires are mostly now caused by arson and that the prevalence of property damage is a result of more residential communities encroaching upon bushland.

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Reader feedback at the time:

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Aftermath

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Following the above publicity and the on site survey of the grading damage by Andrew Scott on behalf of the trustee (Department of Lands -Soil Conservation Service), soil remediation of the Six Foot Track was carried out later in 2005 at a taxpayer cost estimated at $27,000.  The RFS has continued to contract out its grading of thousands of kilometres of fire trails across New South Wales, federally funded by the  Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS).  In 2008,  DOTARS ceased online publishing the details of its funded fire trails activities.

The Blue Mountains Conservation Society Land Use Subcommittee (LUC) effectively ostracised the editor from all LUC meeting notifications, minutes and communications despite the editor emailing repeated requests for inclusion (all records remain on file).   The logical conclusion drawn from this action is that due to the involvement by key influential members of ConSoc with the local Rural Fire Service and Blue Mountains Council’s Blue Mountains Bushfire Management Committee a conflict of interest existed in which the vested interest of the latter held sway.  The Land Use Officer subsequently joined Blue Mountains Council.   The editor (as Honorary Director) was also reprimanded by the Director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness for taking a principled stand against ConSoc’s condoning of damaging bushfire management practices.

This issue has become a regrettable chapter in one’s exposure to questionable principles of the NSW conservation movement.  On 19th January 2009, on principle the editor resigned from both ConSoc and the Colong Foundation for Wilderness to embark on designing an independent voice in The Habitat Advocate website.   In November 2010, the editor renewed his membership with the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

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References

  1. Report for Restoration of Six Foot Track August 2005.pdf
  2. BMCS BF policy 18 Sept Final
  3. BFCC 01-03 fire trail guidelines
  4. Six Foot Track Conservation and Management Plan Vol.1 s7.2.jpg
  5. Six Foot Track Heritage Trust letter 20050802s.jpg
  6. Six Foot Track Heritage Trust letter-20050802 Page 2.jpg

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– end of article –

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