1976 July: Concerns about spraying in Albert River catchment (Vic)

Fisheries and Wildlife Division

Dear ***

For some time I have been somewhat concerned regarding the use of some weedicides and or herbicides for the control of Ragwort, Blackberries and some of the native scrub species (Acacias Dogwoods, etc) within this district (the same situation would probably exist in other districts).

The Ragwort and Blackberries are being controlled because they are classified as Noxious Weeds and the scrub species are being sprayed because of the competition that they create with Pine Trees that have been planted by the Forest Commission and A.P.M.

My concern has been deepened following the visit of the Director with the Minister on the 25th of June when they inspected an area of the Albert River Valley where local landholders have for some time been complaining about the use and affects of some of these sprays and or preparations.

Although I am aware that there is a personality problem existing between some local officers of the Department and the landholders as well as some people, both Lands Department employees and the landholders themselves are possibly misusing these preparations. I still firmly believe that there is a great need to be concerned so far as the welfare of our fish and wildlife and their habitat is concerned.

It is my opinion that substantial and widespread damage is being done in this direction but unfortunately, I do not have any real evidence to substantiate this opinion. I have not had the time to question many people about this matter and if time did permit, I have the feeling that the only information that would be obtained by me, in the main, circumstantial rather than concrete and this type of information or evidence can be, only too easily, readily and conveniently, if need be, brushed aside.

I have heard comments passed that the Albert River Valley Group, ie, those people who have been complaining about and are affected by the effects of the spraying activities, are only radicals who are not conversant with what they are talking about. I do not believe this to be true as these are the people who are living in the area and they can see what is happening from day to day. Also their livelihood depends on it.

The spraying or control methods are carried out by several different methods:-

1. Aerial spraying by contractors – Ragwort and scrub species

2. Boom spraying by lands department and landholders – Ragwort.

3. Power jet spraying by lands department and landholders – Ragwort and blackberries.

4. Spot spraying with misters by lands department and landholders – Ragwort and blackberries.

5. Application of powders and or crystals by lands department and landholders – Ragwort.

If the affects of these activities could be controlled, then I do not think that the danger would be so great, but I am quite convinced that the spray cannot be controlled because of the drift factor.

Some of the observations that I have made are:-

1. Considerable numbers of young wattles and other native species have died (these are evident on hillsides and are in reasonably large numbers).

2. Eucalypts particularly in the Albert River Valley, do not appear healthy: ie; The foliage has a burnt appearance and dead branches are quite apparent.

3. Some eucalypts and other trees and plants are dead on one side and surviving (although not healthy) on the other. This has not been caused by fire.

4. Blackberries and native vegetation (tree ferns etc etc), adjacent to streams have been killed as a result of direct spraying.

5. Vegetation (algae etc) in some streams does not appear normal (in some places it is non existent).

I have also heard many comments and allegations made by quite a number of people who are concerned about this general practice and I have listed some of these comments and or allegations:-

1. One person claimed that she has not been able to grow tomatoes ever since she has lived in the area (some 14 years).

2. Another claims that a large number of her garden plants have been killed by spray drift.

3. Some people claim that the number of birds and koalas have largely disappeared from the area.

4. Fruit trees will not set fruit.

5. Cattle have been infertile some time after spraying has been carried out in this area.

6. Cattle have also aborted for no apparent reason.

7. Trees and plants have flowered out of season.

8. Abnormal growth on native trees and shrubs.

9. Numbers of native trees and plants which have been planted have been killed by spray drift.

10. The number of malformed babies born in the district has increased.

11. The productivity of the streams so far as fish are concerned has decreased – particularly in those areas of the streams which are accessible.

12. Cattle have died for no apparent reason, and so it goes on.

I would point out that I have not been able to investigate most of these claims and or allegations due to lack of time etc, and I have been somewhat reluctant to submit a report regarding them because I have no real evidence to offer but, to me, it appears as though something is very much amiss in this field and I also feel that a much closer look should be taken in this situation.

I believe that if these spraying operations are having an adverse effect on native vegetation, then this in itself suggests that the Wildlife is certainly being affected and if some of these other allegations (abortion, infertility etc) are well founded, then we may have real grounds to be very much concerned.

I have had discussions with three people in this area regarding this matter (Dr *** and Dr *** – both medical practitioners practising in Yarram and Dr Wilson Howwie – a Veterinary Surgeon in Yarram) and all three of these persons are very much concerned regarding the aspects of Human Health and Animal health. I believe that they are preparing submissions regarding this matter and I am hopeful that I will be able to obtain a copy of these submissions and if I do so I will immediately forward these on to you.

Yours respectfully