The Ovens River Demonstration Reach project is a collaborative project involving both state (North-east Catchment Management Authority (NECMA), the Arthur Rylah Institute and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to demonstrate the advantages of using multiple management interventions to showcase the cumulative benefits that river rehabilitation can have on native fish populations. The project was initiated in 2007, and was chosen due to its high environmental values downstream of Wangaratta. This stretch of Ovens River has several endangered native species including Murray cod, Trout cod and Macquarie perch which are nationally recognised in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The project to date has targeted the Ovens River directly upstream of Wangaratta for a range of management interventions including woody weed removal, stock exclusion, increase snag loading and riparian revegetation. The reach was chosen for its easy river access for all river users to easily observe the projects activities and increase community awareness of the program.
Community engagement for the program has occurred on several levels. Individual landholders whose properties adjoin the Demonstration Reach area have been targeted to improve their riparian management practices through extension programs that explain the benefits of improved riparian management for river health. Incentives have been provided in the form of providing fencing materials, weed control activities in project areas and supplying off stream water points for stock once river frontages have been fenced off. Demonstration stalls have been attended by the key stakeholders at the Wangaratta Fishing and Camping Show and Native Fish Week which was aimed at creating greater community awareness about the rehabilitation strategies employed by the project to improve the health of the reach. Carp removal demonstrations have been held in Wangaratta to improve the communities’ awareness of exotic species in the reach, while school groups were targeted regarding the importance of the Ovens Demonstration Reach for a refuge for endangered native species.
The challenges to date for the successful implementation of the program have mainly been outside the manager’s control. Severe bushfires in February 2009 resulted in project staff being reallocated to fire recovery efforts while severe flood events in September 2010 through to March 2012 has resulted in above average river heights which have restricted access for plant and in stream log placement. This has also had consequences for the monitoring of fish numbers as electro fishing was severely impacted by the high water levels. Despite this great work has been achieved as the infographic below shows.
The ability of the program to be successfully combine with other North East CMA core river health programs such as seeding willow and sediment control projects on major tributaries of the Ovens has allowed greater river health targets to be met by complimenting the programs objectives (i.e. multiple management actions). A highlight is the the construction of the Wangaratta Fish Ladder to allow fish species to access the upper reaches of the Ovens River past an artificial weir barrier that was historically constructed for managing Wangaratta’s town water supply.