Be at the cutting edge of a new Natural Values Team

Do you want to work at the cutting edge of saving valuable flora and fauna during a Level 3 incident? Are you cool as a cucumber under pressure? And can you assess risks to ecological assets, particularly threatened species? 

Post-fire recovery works saw ‘platypus pumps’ keep oxygen in the water to ensure critters stayed alive for platypus food*

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, DEW’s Fire Management Branch wants to hear from you.

The team is recruiting members to its Natural Values Team, and has a training day planned for 14 October.

A Natural Values Officer (NVO) provides information and advice to an Incident Management Team (IMT) about protecting natural values that might be affected by a bushfire, by bushfire suppression activities, or by immediate post-fire threats during large and complex Level 3 incidents.

The NVO position was born out of post catastrophic fire debriefs in the SA Murray-Darling Basin region after a fire in Ngarkat Conservation Park in 2014 that burnt most of known mallee emu-wren habitat, along with the ability from DEW’s Mapping Support Team to create a spatial layer of critical ecological values called Natural Values data as part of DEW’s GIS data, which lists vegetation sensitive or vulnerable to significant loss from bushfire.

This data can then be used to quickly and easily display priorities and other information which NVOs can use to provide recommendations to IMTs.

DEW Conservation Ecologist Chris Hedger worked as a NVO during the summer bushfires on Kangaroo Island, the first time one had been used in the region.

‘Arriving at incident command, I was greeted by a room full of people and a big table littered with laptops, forms and detailed maps,’ Chris said.

‘It’s readily apparent; there’s a whole lot happening at once.’

Despite the frenzy, the IMT process quickly reminded Chris of his role and the importance of this position.

‘Working as a NVO you need to gather critical intelligence: Where is the fire? Where is it predicted to go? What strategies are being proposed?’ he said.

‘Then you assess it against known or potential ecological assets at risk from fire or measures used to combat it.

‘You feed in advice regarding the priority of critical assets at risk, while seeking more advice regarding others.’

This cycle repeats itself as the fire evolves and moves.

During the summer bushfires one of Chris’s first priorities was to provide advice on no-go zones for heavy machinery around glossy black-cockatoo sites.

He worked with planning officers to identify other routes for fuel breaks, to ensure these now critical unburnt habitats remained intact.

Another priority recommended aerial reconnaissance trips to the western side of the island continue so other critical patches remained unburnt. Several hotspots identified were monitored for flare ups.

‘Having ecological and operational experience on the fire ground really helps you understand what advice is realistic and what’s not, and cements you as part of an effective team,’ Chris said.

‘I was working in the team for six long days, but it was very rewarding work.’

Chris’s most proud moment was in the immediate post-fire recovery phase, helping to facilitate erosion control strategies and temporary water bubblers around platypus ponds to minimise the risk of ash and other organic matter removing oxygen from the water – which would have killed platypus food sources.

So if you want to be like Chris, or add some data to the spatial layer, get in touch with your local Conservation Ecologist (regional staff) or Adaptive Management Fire Management Officer Dave McKenna.

*Pictured from left to right are Fire Management Officer Andrew McLoughlin, Conservation Ecologist Chris Hedger and Senior Ranger Tammy Leggett