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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

A new protector of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum

The Mountain Pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus) is one of our iconic alpine species. It lives in rock screes and boulder fields, and is also the only Australian mammal restricted to alpine habitat. There are only three main populations remaining.

It faces a number of threats: habitat destruction, climate change and predators. The construction of ski resorts in the alpine regions in which the mountain pygmy possums inhabit has been one of the greatest factors attributed to population decline.

This recent story from the ABC by Lucy Barbour outlines an innovative program which aims to protect the species from feral cats.

Continue reading “A new protector of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum”

TAS fires pose threat to high-altitude areas

Lightning strikes lit well over 100 fires across Tasmania in mid January. As of Feb 3, more than 50 are still burning, and there have been significant impacts on townships, especially in the north west and north of the state.

Check here for details on the status of the fires, why they are so destructive, and whether there are links to climate change.

Continue reading “TAS fires pose threat to high-altitude areas”

Decade-long effort begins to replace Eucalyptus tree “graveyard” on Monaro Plains

Mountain Journal has previously reported on the extensive dieback of eucalypts that has happened across much of the Monaro Plains in southern NSW. Previous reports have suggested that the dieback is related to climate change.

This article is from the ABC, and the reporter is Alice Matthews

Continue reading “Decade-long effort begins to replace Eucalyptus tree “graveyard” on Monaro Plains”

Ski resorts and climate change

As climate change bears down on us, winters become ever more erratic. This impacts on the economic viability of ski resorts and the jobs of people who rely on them.  In their quest to remain commercially viable, most ski resorts are adopting the double edged strategy of claiming a space in the ‘green season’ tourism market while also investing in snow making technology. A small number are also showing leadership in terms of grappling with the actual problem of climate change. Sadly, no Australian resorts are in this category.

Continue reading “Ski resorts and climate change”

Ski resorts – safety in numbers?

Here in Australia our resorts tend to be corporate owned. For instance Mt Hotham is owned by Merlin Entertainments Group, and Thredbo is owned by Kosciuszko Thredbo, which holds the lease for the areas of Thredbo Village and Thredbo Resort and runs a number of hotel and cinema operations around the world. US-based Vail Resorts has recently bought Perisher ski resort (this includes Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Blue Cow and Guthega). Some are run by boards (for instance Mt Buller).

The Thredbo example is indicative of a global trend, where smaller, sometimes community- or locally-owned resorts are either going under or being bought up by larger corporations.

Continue reading “Ski resorts – safety in numbers?”

Coalition calls for re-introduction of cattle grazing trials

The Nationals candidate for the federal seat of Indi, Marty Corboy, and federal Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella have called on the Victorian Labor Government to resume an abandoned scientific trial of high country cattle grazing. This was reported by The Weekly Times. If you think this is a bad idea, there is an online poll attached to the Weekly Times news story.

Grazing in the alpine park is a matter for the state government (although any resumption of grazing would also require approval by the federal environment minister).

At present the ALP are in power in Victoria. The next election is not until 2018. If at that point the Coalition controlled both houses of Parliament they could overturn the legislation which currently bans a resumption of grazing.

Given this is three years away, it seems that Mr Corboy and Ms Mirabella are just indulging in some good old fashioned populist politics which are not really connected to outcomes in the real world.

After the embarrassing loss to the independent candidate Cathy McGowan, the Coalition is desperate to reclaim the seat. Ms McGowan does not support the reintroduction of cattle to the high country.

The negative impacts of cattle grazing on the alpine environment are well documented.

 

Helping trees flee climate change

This article from the Canadian based magazine called The Walrus got me thinking. We know that climate science predicts that some species will migrate ‘uphill’ to try and find the climatic conditions they can flourish in as the temperature warms. This could see some sub alpine and alpine species becoming extinct as they face stiff competition from new species moving into their traditional range and with Australia only having mountains of low elevation, some species could simply be pushed off the top of the ranges.

There are various research projects looking at how climate change is likely to impact on native species in the Alps. The best chance we have to save alpine species in the wild is to reduce future warming through meaningful mitigation efforts (ie we need to stop polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases). But what about the warming that has already happened, and the future warming we are locked into as a result of previous carbon which has been released into the atmosphere? How much ‘room’ do we have for species that are already existing towards the top of their range, with limited space to migrate upwards?

This story from Canada raises the notion of ‘assisted migration’ for vegetation.

Some key points from the story:

  • A study by the United States Forest Service into the whitebark pine predicts that 97% of it’s current distribution will be too hot for the species after 2100, leaving little hope for the slow-growing tree, which can take up to eighty years to produce large crops of cones. The whitebark is an endangered tree species in Canada
  • there is a plan to start to plant whitebark pines as far as 800 kilometres north of their current range, to provide habitats where the species can survive in the wild
  • sites for the relocation were identified by looking at climate models. Researchers found nine sites where the pines might thrive in a warming world
  • it will take at least another decade before it is clear whether the assisted migration program has worked

Sierra McLane, from the University of British Columbia, who is involved in the project admits that “we’re playing God. This is a very gutsy thing to do.” There are many things that could go wrong (for instance trees transplanted now could die in winters that are colder than they are used to). There is the uncertainty about exactly what is coming in terms of climate change, and the fact that there will be regional variations, so ‘migration’ might work in some areas but not others. Despite extensive modelling, no one really knows what future climates will be like. Temperatures could rise anywhere from one to four degrees celcius by the end of the century in British Columbia, and precipitation could increase by anywhere from 10 to 20% in the same time span. This makes identifying migration sites difficult. There is also the fact that there can be considerable variation in trees of the same species, depending on where they are from. In the Australia high country, with many high elevation species now being geographically isolated from each other, it may be possible that a new location cannot be found for the various seperate communities. With limited alpine country, transplanting species into a new area would simply displace existing communities. The theory of assisted migration doesn’t seem like a viable option for a place like Australia.

Then there is the ‘cane toad’ syndrome: the often unintended consequences that can come from introducing species into new habitats. Most people are aware that radiata pine is an invasive species in a lot of the bush in south east Australia. But native species can be a worse form of invasive species because they may be harder to identify (and hence remove) and may cross breed with local trees, profoundly changing the local species.

And, as the author of the article, Asher Mullard, notes “a more global problem also looms: assisted migration is designed to treat the symptoms of climate change, but not the disease”.

There is no doubt that in an era of climate change and fragmented ecosystems, we will need more, rather than less human intervention in native ecosystems. As a life long advocate for the creation of wild areas, this realisation is not something that makes me happy. Our greatest efforts must be in the realm of mitigation – doing everything in our power to limit current and future warming. We need to consider if our reserve systems are continuous enough to allow ‘natural’ migration of native plant and animal species as the climate warms. But we do also need to consider where we need to intervene to give threatened indigenous species or communities the best chance of continuing to survive in the wild. This may need greater intervention in terms of where we plant or seed trees or release animals.

National Parks Association calls for release of Brumby Management Plan

Wild horse (brumby) populations are causing major environmental damage across the Alps. But as a charismatic animal with strong cultural connection for some groups, the question of population control is a vexed and and emotional one.

Recently, the National Parks Association NSW has called on the NSW Government to release its plan for managing wild horses in the Snowy Mountains.

A draft plan of management due for public exhibition last year was delayed until December, and has again been postponed until early 2016.

Continue reading “National Parks Association calls for release of Brumby Management Plan”

Lake Mountain Super G

On Sunday 28th of February the Murrindindi Cycle Club will be hosting Australia’s first marathon super G.

This event showcases the new single track trail that starts at the Lake Mountain summit and finishes at the Lake Mountain ticket office, 12 kilometres, 620 meters of descending and 200 meters of climbing later.

A bus shuttle is included for trip back to Lake Mountain village for results and presentations. Shuttles also available Saturday for training runs.

You can register here (cost from $50). There are various categories.

Further information here.

You can contact the Murrindindi Cycle Club via email: murrindindicycleclub@gmail.com

Banff Mountain Film Festival

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is the most prestigious international film competition and an annual presentation of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports, and environment. It was launched in 1976 as The Banff Festival of Mountain Films by The Banff Centre and is held every October in Banff, Canada.

Approximately 375 films are entered into the film festival annually, and the top 80 films are selected by a pre-screening committee to be shown at the week long festival in Canada. During the festival, the international film festival jury chooses the best films and presents awards in various categories including: Best Film on Mountain Sport, Best Film on Mountain Environment, Best Film on Mountain Culture, Best Film on Exploration and Adventure and more.

From this selection a program of over 2 hours of thought-provoking films, with subject matter ranging from remote landscapes and cultures to adrenaline-packed action sports are selected to tour Australia each April, May and June. In Australia the same 2+ hours of films are shown at each screening.

Full details available here.

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