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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Alpine Ash

Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem

The state government logging agency, VicForests, intends to log a total of 11 “coupes”, or sections, of mature forest, dominated by Alpine Ash, in the headwaters of the Little Dargo River, an area of state forest that lies right next to the Alpine National Park. These coupes are located in a series of clusters, where separate sections of bush will be harvested, creating a large zone of cleared land over time. One coupe has already been logged. The remaining coupes have not yet been scheduled for harvesting, and are yet to be surveyed. There is still time to stop this ecological disaster – if we act now.

The Little Dargo is roughly 15 kilometres south of the Mt Hotham ski resort in the mountains of north eastern Victoria. Background on the logging can be found here.

Continue reading “Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem”

Tracking Snow Gum decline

Alpine Ash is a quintessential tree of the higher foothill country of the Australian Alps. It is facing an existential threat from fire. It has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

Snow gums are the classic alpine tree of the mainland, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. But wildfire has also been devastating large swathes of snow gum habitat, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7 and 2013. Much of Kosciuszko National Park was burnt in 2003. South Eastern Australia suffered from a drought that lasted more than a decade and this greatly increased the severity of the fires that have occurred since the turn of the 21st century. The result of the fires is that often the parent tree has been killed back to ground level, with subsequent re-shooting of leaves from lignotuber buds under the bark. In this way, individual trees can exist through various ‘lives’, often surviving multiple fires.

The Victorian government is now so concerned about the threat of fire on Alpine Ash communities that it has launched a seeding program to help the species survive.

As yet the government does not see the need to intervene in the same way with Snow Gums.

Continue reading “Tracking Snow Gum decline”

Forest refuges under threat from logging

new report based on analysis of maps and data from the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires has revealed that significant areas of unburnt forests critical for bushfire affected wildlife are set to be logged by the Victorian Government. This includes areas in the Victorian high country.

The report was produced by a range of groups, including Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and the Victorian National Parks Association.

GECO says ‘These and other important areas are still scheduled for logging, when they need to be protected. Take action and email decision makers to drop logging plans and protect forests and wildlife’.

Continue reading “Forest refuges under threat from logging”

Dead forests making bushfires worse

We know that climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense. This is happening globally. It has enormous implications for the landscapes that we love, how we prepare for and fight fires, and even how we live in fire prone areas.

These fires are transforming the landscapes we know and love. Anyone who has driven out of Jindabyne into the Snowy Mountains, or Mt Beauty towards the Bogong High Plains knows what I am talking about – endless walls of grey, dead trees. Only 0.47% of old growth Alpine Ash still exists in Victoria. This has huge implications for the aesthetics of our mountain areas, and significant ecological implications.

Increased fire frequency could see mountain forests like Alpine Ash replaced by wattle woodlands. As recently noted by Brett McNamara, the manager of Namadgi National Park:

Recovery happens but it is “tainted with a sense of what does the future hold for us if we are to experience fire again and again with such intensity. This is where the question is unanswered. What these mountains will look like well into the future?”

The huge volumes of dead trees from previous fires also creates a lot of fuel that is already dry and hence ready to burn in future fires. What are the implications of this for our fire fighting and land management efforts?

Continue reading “Dead forests making bushfires worse”

Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires

The Bushfire Recovery Project, led by five scientists, is tracking forest regrowth in NSW and Victoria after last summer’s fires, using data gathered by citizen scientists.

Their report has found that while low elevation forests on the NSW south coast appear to be recovering well, forests in some subalpine areas ‘near Mount Kosciuszko and in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are struggling to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires’.

This is consistent with everything we already know about the impact of climate driven fire seasons on the higher elevation Alpine Ash forests and Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires”

Salvage logging in Alpine Ash forests

Last summer’s fires devastated huge sections of Eastern Victoria, and disrupted regional economies in the east of the state.

They burned 1.4 million hectares, much of it forested public land. They destroyed more than 50% of the habitat for 185 rare and threatened Victorian plants and animals. They pushed already critically endangered species like the greater glider, smoky mouse, others perilously close to extinction. They also impacted large areas of Alpine Ash forest, which the government now intends to log.

Continue reading “Salvage logging in Alpine Ash forests”

There is only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash left in the Central Highlands

Alpine Ash, a quintessential tree of the Australian Alps, which is restricted to higher elevations, mostly between 900 m and 1,450 m in Victoria and southern New South Wales, has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

And world renowned forest researcher David Lindenmayer says that only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash is left in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Let that sink in for a moment. The amount of old growth in the east and north east of the state is not known. But these areas have been heavily burnt in recent years, with ‘at least’ 10,000 ha of the forest community on the verge of collapse.

Continue reading “There is only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash left in the Central Highlands”

Reseeding the Alpine Ash and Mountain Ash forests

There is no doubt that our fire seasons are getting longer and more intense and this is starting to have potentially landscape changing impacts. There is concern that Alpine Ash forests could be wiped out in some areas where fire comes in multiple waves before the recovering trees can set seed. Parts of north eastern Victoria have been burnt three times in a decade. Mountain Ash forests face similar threats.

It is tragic that fires are so frequent and intense that we face the prospect of seeing these vegetation communities collapse. There are many ways we must respond: acting decisively on climate change, and protecting these forests from wildfire and over logging. Aerial seeding programs also aim to help these forests survive.

Continue reading “Reseeding the Alpine Ash and Mountain Ash forests”

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