Crikey. Another year. Sitting on the tail end of a long, hot and dry summer, it feels like the cooler seasons will never arrive. In reflecting on 2018, two things really stand out:
- The fact we had another fantastic winter (on par with 2017, which had been billed as ‘the best since 2000’), which was followed by
- The heatwave and dry summer that saw huge fires across Tasmania and the Victorian alps.
After a great winter, which now seems like a lifetime ago, we moved into a dry spring. Rainfall was down by 38% across much of south east Australia and this was most noticeable in Tasmania. Then summer arrived with a vengeance, delivering a brutal heatwave and sustained dry weather (the Bureau of Meteorology, in its annual climate assessment noted that we experienced our hottest January on record). Then we got rolling waves of dry lightning storms, which triggered fires in the mainland mountains and across Tasmania. The rest is, as they say, history. While there were significant fires on the mainland, it was Tasmania that really suffered, with more than 200,000 hectares of the island being burnt. As of mid March, the Gell River fire in the south west of Tasmania is still burning, after more than 80 days.
Yes, fire has always been a part of our landscape (at least since the warming that saw the rise of eucalypt dominated vegetation at the expense of the broad-leaved rainforests that had covered much of the continent into the Eocene Epoch that ended 38 million years ago.). But Tasmania is a refuge for the old Gondwanc vegetation that existed across Australia before the warming. In general this vegetation type, which includes rainforests with a range of unique pines and Nothofagus, and the sub alpine pencil pine, often exist in areas that are too damp to burn badly. Not this year. While much of the fire activity was in fire tolerant vegetation such as button grass and dry eucalypt forests, a lot of wet eucalypt vegetation also burnt. These tend to hold reservoirs of understorey rainforest species, which do not respond well to fire.
We cannot afford to lose any of this remnant vegetation. So any loss, even of a few hectares of pencil pine or King Billy forest becomes a cumulative loss because these trees take so long to recover (and may not recover at all). An initial analysis of the impacts of the fires suggests that the damage to these forests was fairly small given the scale of the fires. Time will tell as the desk top studies get tested in the field.
The climate change link was clear in this summer’s fire: the incidence of dry lightning strikes has increased in Tasmania significantly since about the year 2000. This, and drier, hotter summers, are core aspects of what climate science tells us is the future for Tasmania unless we act now to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But back to winter… 2018 was one of those years to remember. Apart from some huge dumps of snow, we got enough dry powder to keep everyone happy and a long ski season, despite the late start.
In terms of key visitation to the site, there were a few of the regulars that always get lots of visits:
- backcountry film festival,
- the ski guide to Mt Hotham and
- various stories on the climate change impacts on alpine environments – especially the ‘more fires, less snow gums’ piece, and stories on indigenous people of the Alps
Plus issues that emerged during the year:
- The move by the NSW government to provide protection to wild horses, despite the obvious environmental impacts of these animals on alpine environments
- The new hut at Lake Tahune near Frenchman’s Cap in Tasmania,
- The proposed long distance walking track from the East Gippsland coast to Mt Ellery,
- And the community campaign to stop controversial logging near Noojee in Victoria.
A highlight for me was turning the annual World Telemark Days into an ‘all things backcountry’ festival, which was held at Falls Creek in early September 2018. As a big fan of backcountry culture, I was really happy to help set up Australia’s first backcountry festival. Close to 200 people attended, and in 2019 it will be moving to Mt Hotham.
There is clearly a role for Mountain Journal. Visitation has continued to go up (and the Tasmanian fires story had 10,000+ views in the first few days of being posted).
Thanks to the many people who have been sending feedback and details on upcoming events. I always welcome content on mountain related themes, you’re welcome to send articles via firstname.lastname@example.org And please feel free to keep in touch via facebook or Instagram.
See you out in the hills, or maybe at this year’s backcountry festival.
[PHOTOS >> The Olympus Range, TAS, April 2018]