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SAN LUIS NWRC: Refuge Biologist Supports Australian Wildfire Rehab Efforts
California-Nevada Offices , March 31, 2009
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Threatened Leadbeater’s possum removed from a nest box.
Photo courtesy of S. Smith, Victoria, DSE.
Threatened Leadbeater’s possum removed from a nest box. Photo courtesy of S. Smith, Victoria, DSE. - Photo Credit: n/a
The DOI BAER team in Victoria, Australia. Top from left: Gavin Lovell, Ken Griggs, Richard Easterbrook, Bill Sims, Erv Gasser, Rich Pyzik. Bottom row from left: Fred VonBonin, Nora Caplette, Mike Dolan, Judy Hallisey, Lisa Jameson, Chuck James. (photo courtesy of DOI BAER team)
The DOI BAER team in Victoria, Australia. Top from left: Gavin Lovell, Ken Griggs, Richard Easterbrook, Bill Sims, Erv Gasser, Rich Pyzik. Bottom row from left: Fred VonBonin, Nora Caplette, Mike Dolan, Judy Hallisey, Lisa Jameson, Chuck James. (photo courtesy of DOI BAER team) - Photo Credit: n/a
San Luis NWR Complex wildlife biologist Ken Griggs and DSE biologist Steve Smith in front of toppled tree root ball, Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North Fire. (photo courtesy DOI BAER team)
San Luis NWR Complex wildlife biologist Ken Griggs and DSE biologist Steve Smith in front of toppled tree root ball, Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North Fire. (photo courtesy DOI BAER team) - Photo Credit: n/a
Leary’s Creek drainage after the Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North Fire. (photo courtesy DOI BAER team)
Leary’s Creek drainage after the Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North Fire. (photo courtesy DOI BAER team) - Photo Credit: n/a

by San Luis Refuge Staff
Although located a great distance apart, Australia and California share much in common as hot and dry lands subject to frequent and intense wildfires.  As in America, the Australians have their own history and tradition of fighting wildfires, or “bushfires” as they call them, and are accustomed to living with and managing fire.

Due to the continuing long-term drought and recent firestorms in southern Australia, two federal interagency Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams supported wildfire recovery efforts.  The exchange provided an opportunity for fire specialists from both countries to work with and learn from each other.

Biologist Ken Griggs from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Los Banos, California, has served as a wildlife biologist for the Department of the Interior’s National BAER team for the past four years.  During that period, the DOI BAER team has prepared wildfire emergency stabilization and rehabilitation plans to treat fire damage on Mojave National Preserve, Desert NWR, Malheur NWR, Hopper Mountain NWR, San Diego NWR, and a host of Bureau of Land Management districts.    This was the first international assignment for the DOI BAER team.  The team is made up of watershed, wildlife, vegetation, and archeology specialists that are trained to rapidly identify, evaluate, and analyze fire impacts on large, complex fires and produce a plan to reduce the negative impacts that that may result from fires. 

The Australian government requested the DOI BAER team to assist and support Victoria State agencies in their wildfire recovery efforts.  Most of the recent wildfires, covered in stories by the international press, occurred in this state.  These devastating wildfires burned nearly 1 million acres, destroyed numerous structures, and claimed the lives of many Australians.

The DOI BAER team arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, on February 15th and was greeted by  U.S. Consulate General, Michael Thurston, before an in-briefing and deployment to fire areas. The 12 members of DOI BAER Team were part of a group of 60 wildfire specialists sent to meet the Australian request.  Other specialists deployed included Incident Management personnel with expertise in fire operations, planning, and logistics; a 20-person hand crew; and a U.S. Forest Service BAER team.

During its deployment, the DOI BAER team worked primarily with staff from the Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Parks Victoria to assess the Beechworth-Library Road Fire (80,000 acres) and Kilmore East-Murrindindi Complex North Fire (382,000 acres).  Both of these wildfires occurred in habitats dominated by eucalyptus forests on hilly terrain.  The BAER team worked on these sites while the fires still burned on their leading edges.  The team’s work focused on assessing post-fire risks to public safety, property, and natural and cultural resources.  Specific measures were identified to mitigate these threats, and cost estimates to implement these treatments were also provided.  Within days after the BAER plans were written for these fires, officials with the Victoria DSE used them as the basis for funding requests submitted up through their chain of command.

As the BAER teams’ wildlife biologist, Ken specifically addressed direct and indirect fire effects to threatened wildlife and fish species and their habitats.  He worked with local DSE biologists to assess fire impacts to species that included the spot-tailed quoll, Leadbeater’s possum, powerful owl, sooty owl, and barred galaxia (a colorful species of fish).  Other specialists evaluated the potential for run-off and debris flows to affect public safety and drinking water supplies, fire effects to aboriginal sites, rare plant communities, and timber resources.

In addition to their work on fire recovery efforts, the experience allowed resource professionals from both countries to exchange ideas, methodologies, and procedures used in emergency stabilization/rehabilitation processes and natural resource management. The deployment simultaneously served as a teaching and learning opportunity for personnel and their Australian counterparts.


Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov



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