Grass threat is no fairy tale

Community frustration over fairy grass threat


Grain
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A western Victorian community is frustrated at a lack of action over control of fairy grass, which it says is causing safety issues.

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Clear Lake farmer Lockie Wilson with fairy grass that has piled up around fencelines.

Clear Lake farmer Lockie Wilson with fairy grass that has piled up around fencelines.

RESIDENTS of a western Victorian community remain weary at what they claim is a lack of positive action from government agencies in controlling the risks presented by the spread of an invasive native grass.

The community at Clear Lake, 50 kilometres south-west of Horsham, first alerted Parks Victoria of problems with fairy grass (Lachnagrostis filiformis) spreading from the dried up lake bed in 2015, but the issue is yet to be resolved.

Local farmer Lockie Wilson said the grass had spread all over the district, piling up to be metres deep in areas exposed to the prevailing winds.

He said it presented a number of safety, agronomic and amenity issues.

The grass has been raised as a potential contributing factor in a fire that destoyed a house in the township, although it is not believed to be the primary cause of the blaze.

Mr Wilson said, whatever the source of the fire, the grass was highly flammable and mobile.

"If it got burning and it was a windy day it could spread a fire in no time."

From an agronomic point of view, Mr Wilson said he was concerned about the impact the fairy grass would have on his sowing program.

Lockie Wilson says fairy grass is gathering in between stubble rows and will cause issues at sowing time.

Lockie Wilson says fairy grass is gathering in between stubble rows and will cause issues at sowing time.

"It gathers up between the rows of the stubble and we're forecasting it is going to make it really difficult for people in the area with the grass to get the crop in as it is going to drag along and gather around the tines on the seeding equipment.

"We've got some mapping done identifying the hot spots and its going to be really interesting to run the yield maps over the affected area at the end of the year and see whether it has made a difference."

He said the fairy grass was also impacting the quality of life in the area.

"It gets into your sheds and makes these great big piles and it is not easy to clean up, everyone is just sick of it."

Mr Wilson said long-time local residents had suggested management options such as burning or a light cultivation of the lake bed could markedly lower plant populations.

However, he said the matter had been discussed with Parks Victoria who had rejected such proposals on the grounds that it would interfere with the natural environment.

"It seems their position is that we're living near a lake so we just have to cop it."

Mr Wilson said this seemed to be inconsistent with policy regarding native flora and fauna when it impacted on a major population centre.

"When there's bushland near a town there doesn't seem to be any problem in getting a firebreak in place, and Horsham has got the permits in for corella culls, so it seems as though there are different rules for managing native species for when you are in an area with a lot of people and when you're out in the countryside."

Parks Victoria area chief ranger Zoe Wilkinson said it was not as simple as putting a match to the lake bed.

The dry lake bed at Clear Lake is full of fairy grass.

The dry lake bed at Clear Lake is full of fairy grass.

"It is a difficult grass to manage at Clear Lake," she said.

"Use of herbicide on fairy grass isn't appropriate as it is a native plant, not a weed, that is growing in a sensitive wetland environment where chemicals could have other impacts on the environment," Ms Wilkinson said.

She also said the burning option was not necessarily effective.

"Though burning can reduce fairy grass initially it also removes other competing vegetation, typically allowing the fairy grass to return and re-colonise the area."

She said the experience of nearby Natimuk Lake had showed other plant species out-competing the fairy grass had been the most successful option in the long run.

However, Mr Wilson said the strategy of waiting for alternative vegetation to grow and out-compete the fairy grass was not working.

"It may have worked in other locations but we've been waiting since 2015 for the so-called competition to kick in and the fairy grass is still there, thicker than ever, causing more problems than ever.

"We seem to be getting a lot of direction from people who don't necessarily have great experience with the lake and what goes on here, and ignoring the advice of those that do."

But making the burning option more difficult, Ms Wilkinson said there were several registered aboriginal cultural heritage sites registered at the lake which needed to be protected during any potential management action.

Ms Wilkinson left the door slightly ajar for an experiment with reducing the weed burden with fire.

"Forest Fire Management is meeting with Clear Lake CFA members this week to discuss the possibility of testing these effects through a small-scale burning trial."

The story Grass threat is no fairy tale first appeared on Farm Online.

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