State of the Environment Report 2007
Lower Cotter revegetation – healthy landscapes, clean water
The 2003 bushfires caused a rethink of the values found in fire-devastated areas and the functions we seek from them. What should be the balance between recreation, environment, watershed function, commercial forestry, and protection of infrastructure and people? The outcome we want governs what we do.The Lower Cotter is a story of quick post-fire reaction followed by an appraisal, fresh decisions on aims and priorities, and vigorous action towards these new goals.
Some of the most damaged Lower Cotter areas had been planted to pines. Clearly, revegetation was needed because water flowing to the reservoir was now of poor quality. The initial inclination was to quickly restore pines: there was large scale replanting in 2003-4, with fire debris removed and burnt.
Then there was a rethink (in light of new evidence that natural revegetation was possible, when immediately post the fires this was not thought possible in the burnt pine forests). A Lower Cotter Catchment Strategic Management Plan was developed and it gives priority to protecting water supply, plus heritage and recreational uses. Scientific advice was sought on revegetating this catchment. It identified roads as a major source of sediment: commercial pine plantations use roads extensively. As well, a warmer, dryer future climate is predicted making higher fire frequency likely: fire management and restoration in pines involves higher soil disturbance compared to native forests. In sum, the advice suggested that pine plantations would make the meeting of water quality requirements more difficult and costly (and be unprofitable anyway).
So, with the Cotter reservoir taking a priority place in ACT water supply, pine planting in this lower catchment was halted. Revegetation remains a paramount concern, but no new pine plantings will occur and areas not already planted are being restored to native vegetation, a natural way to achieve clean water. Pines are being selectively removed. Roads are being rationalised, rehabilitated and reduced. Extensive efforts are occurring on erosion - a continuing problem - and weed control. Monitoring of flora and fauna is in place.
Major revegetation works in 2006–07 saw thousands of native seedlings planted in strategically important areas of the Lower Cotter Catchment by contractors and hundreds of volunteers in a large community-based project led by Greening Australia. The drought hasn’t helped but the work goes on!
With or without future fires and drought (both more probable than not), rehabilitation will take many, many years. But a clear direction has been set and revegetation with native species is the chosen path.