THE state environment department has defended its fire management practice which led to the incineration of a colony of rare New Holland mice.
In early May, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and Forest Five Management Victoria carried out a burn in the Providence Ponds Flora and Fauna Reserve near Stratford.
The reserve is one of only three Victorian places where the endangered New Holland mouse lives.
New Holland mice had been recorded in the past two years in the area of the reserve that was severely burned, but local environmentalists claim DELWP and FFMV failed to consider the welfare of the rare species.
Louise Crisp from the Gippsland Environment Group said the fire was extremely hot because of a dry autumn.
"The heath land and banksia woodland was intensely burned right down to sand," she said.
"Highway traffic was reduced to one car at a time under police control due to poor visibility from the dense smoke. This was not an ecological burn."
Members of the Gippsland Environment Group and the Mammal Survey Group re-entered the burned area a month after the burn and found the GPS co-ordinates of the sites where the New Holland mice had been captured.
"All the New Holland Mouse sites were completely incinerated except one, which was partially incinerated," Ms Crisp said.
Nancy McMurray from the Mammal Survey Group said the intensity and scale of the burn in locations where the rare New Holland mouse had been recently recorded was shocking.
"Did DELWP staff actually consult their biodiversity database?" she questioned.
"Why did Parks Victoria allow such a burn to be carried out in the flora and fauna reserve with so little regard for threatened species?"
Ms Crisp claimed that since the burn, at least one New Holland mouse had been recorded on camera in an unburnt section of the block.
"As New Holland mice have a very small home range of only 0.4 to 1.4 hectares, it is clear that many of the mice previously recorded have perished," she said.
A report by Trust for Nature, which had funded the surveys for New Holland mice in 2015 and 2016, recommended a change of burn practices in the reserve, including reducing the patch size of burns.
Trust for Nature recommended DELWP and Parks Victoria develop an ecologically sensitive fire management plan for Providence Ponds to target the conservation of the New Holland mouse populations given the significance of these localities for the species' conservation in a state-wide context.
"Gippsland Environment Group urges Parks Victoria to develop an ecological management plan for Providence Ponds as a matter of priority before the next autumn burn season," Ms Crisp said.
DELWP assistant Gippsland chief fire officer Chris Stephenson said the area was part of a fuel reduction burn in a bushfire moderation zone.
"The zone aims to reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires. The area has been burnt previously as part of planned burns; it was last burnt in 1988-89," Mr Stephenson said.
"The area has parts that are completely unburnt as well as parts that are burnt to different degrees, which is typical of burns in this type of vegetation."
Mr Stephenson said monitoring cameras had detected the presence of New Holland mice after the burn.
"During the fire operations planning process a range of biodiversity values are considered by staff from DELWP and Parks Victoria," he said.
"These assessments combine local knowledge and biodiversity data, including information on threatened species, significant nesting and roosting sites and policy guidelines for specific species found in the burn area," Mr Stephenson said.
"In partnership with Parks Victoria, Trust for Nature, East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and Melbourne University, DELWP is co-ordinating three new projects in relation to better understanding where the New Holland mice are in the landscape and how to manage it for them.
"These projects over the next two years involve remote camera monitoring, field research by a PhD student, predator baiting and before and after monitoring of planned burns.
"All of this information will be used to assist land managers to make informed decisions about the management of the New Holland mice into the future," Mr Stephenson said.