Bushfire logs are being used to rebuild aquatic habitat.

Timber from bushfire-affected trees along Upper Murray roadsides has been used to control erosion and improve the habitat of endangered trout cod near Towong. Agencies from both sides of the NSW-Victoria border have collaborated on the project, which has resulted in dozens of large logs converted into river ‘snags’ at the Lighthouse Crossing Reserve. The logs provide shelter, food and breeding locations for fish and other aquatic animals.

Once plentiful in the Murray-Darling Basin, trout cod now have a very restricted range, including a small population in the Upper Murray. The habitat restoration project was initiated by Murray Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s bushfire recovery package for wildlife and their habitat.

The works were undertaken by the NSW Soil Conservation Service, a division of Local Land Services, and have been carried out in conjunction with Parks Victoria, using logs donated by Regional Roads Victoria.

More than 65 large bushfire-affected trees were removed from roadsides in the Towong Shire after they were deemed unsafe to remain in place and unsuitable for timber use.

Soil conservation service manager of Tumut and Upper Murray River Works, Shanthan Pathmanathan, said the habitat restoration project was an ideal use for the removed trees. “The improved aquatic populations that result from re-snagging areas of the river in turn benefit other species in the ecosystem, including birds, which feed on them,” he said. “Snags were previously removed from rivers for boating purposes, to protect property and enhance water flow, but research has now shown that this approach impairs river stability, degrades river health and contributes to the decline of freshwater fish populations.”

The re-snagging is designed to prevent continued erosion and to create an aquatic habitat, with the timber secured safely and positioned in a way that does not interfere with the river channel.

NSW Department of Primary Industries Murray Darling Fisheries manager, Luke Pearce, said the re-snagging of rivers had documented benefits to aquatic life: “Research of re-snagged sites elsewhere has shown a three-fold increase in numbers of Murray cod and a doubling of golden perch.”

It is hoped that this project has a similar effect on the trout cod.

Murray Local Land Services environment team leader, Leigh Blackmore, said trout cod were once abundant in the larger upland rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin: “However, due to a range of stressors, their range is now restricted to only a few small pockets, including a small population in the Upper Murray and they are listed as endangered. “This project demonstrated the power of collaboration among agencies to achieve outcomes that have multiple benefits, including road safety, fish habitat and river bank stability. This habitat restoration will help offset the impact of the fires on the trout cod and other aquatic organisms.”

Image: Trees killed in the summer fires and unsuitable to leave in place or harvest for timber are helping regenerate the Upper Murray. Photo courtesy NSW Govt Local Land Services.