A retiree is locked in a tussle with environmental groups about the removal of willow trees he values.
Narromine’s Bob Meadley criticised the removal of willow trees along the Macquarie River because he believed the willows would have protected the riverbank from the ravages of raging floodwaters.
Central West Catchment Management Authority (CWCMA) general manager Tim Ferraro rejected Mr Meadley’s claims, saying willow removal led to more fish, more native vegetation and a more stable river.
The CWCMA funded willow-removal projects at Dubbo, Narromine and across the catchment.
The council killed the introduced species and planted native trees along the riverbank.
Frequent river walker Mr Meadley lamented the damage to the area since the flood peak of 14 metres on December 7 and thought the project was carried out in the wrong order.
“All the little trees are gone (since the flood), all that’s left is an occasional little tree guard,” he said.
“You plant trees and get them up and then you take out the trees you don’t want.
“Don’t take out the trees first because you end up with nothing.”
His hypothesis is that there was more
turbulence in the river because the willows were dead and he calls it a “disappointing” result.
Mr Meadley blamed the CWCMA for the impact but Mr Ferraro said the authority worked in partnership with councils, landcare groups and others and did none of the ground work - Narromine Shire Council had chosen the project and the site.
But the CWCMA has as a condition of funding that recipients must implement willow-control projects in line with a “best practice guide”.
“It aims to minimise any short-term adverse environmental impacts and maximise long-term environmental benefits,” Mr Ferraro said.
“The willow-control project in Narromine was implemented in line with best practice requirements and the council should be commended for its excellent efforts.
“A small number of people maintain a view that willows should be retained.
“The reality is that the vast bulk of the scientific and practical evidence is that willows do more harm than good in Australian environments.
“Problems caused by willows include impacts on native fish and native vegetation, the modification of stream flow, increased water use and damage to infrastructure from willow debris in floods.”
And in floods “willows cause more turbulence, not less, because of their large root masses and invasive nature”.
New CSIRO research has backed Mr Ferraro’s position, showing that removing willow trees could return hundreds of megalitres of water to struggling river systems.
Narromine Shire Council has defended its actions in carrying out the removal in line with best management practice.
The council used two methods to kill the willows. One was to poison them but leave them in the ground to be used as habitat for birds and fish when they eventually fall into the water, council health and building manager Chris Brook said.
Additionally the root system was left to stabilise the river bank, he said.
The seedlings were long-stem types, meaning they were more advanced shrubs and had the best chance of survival - without floods, he said.