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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

Climate change to make TAS fires more intense and more frequent.

Widespread wildfires in early 2016 caused huge damage across large areas of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, including significant sections of vegetation which is not fire adapted.

Inquiries into the fires were held during 2016, with a senate inquiry recommending the creation of specialist remote area fire fighting capacity.

The question of how much climate change influenced the extent and severity of the fires has been debated at some length, in the media and the inquiry processes.

This article by Emilie Gramenz from the ABC is a further update on the outcome of the process and the need for further research into the links between fire and climate change. A key message from researchers is that “climate change would likely make future fires more intense and more frequent”.

Continue reading “Climate change to make TAS fires more intense and more frequent.”

Senate inquiry into Tasmanian fires calls for creation of a national remote area firefighting team

The report from the Senate Inquiry into the terrible fires that happened in Tasmania last summer has now been released.

The inquiry looked at ‘responses to, and lessons learnt from, the January and February 2016 bushfires in remote Tasmanian wilderness’. The committee was chaired by Greens Senator Nick McKim.

Probably the key recommendation in the report is the proposal that the state and federal governments should investigate the establishment of a national remote area firefighting team. Coalition committee members dissented, saying informal and formal relationships already exist between the state and federal governments and that the Army is also brought in when needed. However the slow pace at which a number of remote area fires were tackled indicates that there was a shortage of fire fighting resources able to be deployed quickly into remote areas. The devastation of areas such as around Lake McKenzie on the Central Plateau was compounded by the delay in getting fire fighting units into the area.

The Coalition MPs on the committee also disagreed with another call in the inquiry report for Australia to report annually to the UNESCO Wilderness World Heritage committee about the state of conservation within the Tasmanian WWHA.

Other issues raised in the report include the need to ensure adequate funding of research into how climate change will influence fires in the world heritage area. For instance, the committee recommends that the Australian Government recognise the need to enhance protection and conservation efforts in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area by allocating increased funding:

  • to the Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania, for appropriate management activities and resources; and
  • for research projects aimed at providing qualitative and quantitative data specific to climate-related and ecological threats to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (such as dry lightning strike). It appears that the frequency of dry lightning strikes has already increased in recent decades.

The final report is available here.

Update on the investigation into 2016 Tasmanian bushfires

Last summer saw some of the worst bushfires in Tasmania for decades. Fire services were overwhelmed and large areas of the World Heritage Area were badly burnt before authorities were able to bring the fires under control.

Fires impacted about 20,100 hectares, or 1.3 per cent, of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The worst hit areas included Lake Mackenzie (13,822 hectares), Gordon River Road (3,520 hectares) and Maxwell River South (1,389 hectares).

Continue reading “Update on the investigation into 2016 Tasmanian bushfires”

CFA volunteers call for a halt to this season’s planned burns in Strathbogie Ranges

In a significant move, volunteers with the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in north east Victoria have called for a halt to planned fuel reduction burns in the Strathbogie Ranges. Mountain Journal has previously reported on community calls to halt the burns because of the likely ecological impacts.

Continue reading “CFA volunteers call for a halt to this season’s planned burns in Strathbogie Ranges”

An inquiry into the Tasmanian fires?

In a good development on the Tasmanian fires, the Senate has formally called on the Federal Government to establish an independent inquiry into the recent fires in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area.

A motion moved by Greens Senator Nick McKim and Labor Senator Lisa Singh passed the Senate on Monday afternoon.

Continue reading “An inquiry into the Tasmanian fires?”

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”

Fires in the Alps

Lightning storms earlier this week started a number of fires in the high country, including one in the Buckland valley, Tawonga South, and on the Old Coach road between Mt Hotham and Harrietville. Parts of this area has been burnt three times in a little more than 10 years, with huge impacts on the alpine ash forests of the upper Ovens Valley and surrounding watersheds.

Continue reading “Fires in the Alps”

New system for fuel reduction burns in Victoria

The Victorian government has announced changes to how fuel reduction burns (‘controlled burning’) will be carried out in the state.

Since the Black Saturday fires of 2009, public land managers have been seeking to burn 5% of public land each year. This has been criticised for being a very blunt management instrument for a complex problem. There are concerns that burning regimes have been inappropriate for some types of vegetation, causing ecological damage, and have not been able to reduce overall fire risk in the state.

Continue reading “New system for fuel reduction burns in Victoria”

Fuel reduction of limited value in reducing fire risk

Fuel reduction (also called controlled burning) is a key tool used by land managers to reduce the intensity of fires when they do occur. Its a simple theory: do a controlled, ‘cool’ burn through an area to reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floor.

In Victoria, there is an annual target, whereby public authorities need to try and burn 5% of public land each year. This has lead to widespread criticism that Parks are burning areas a long way from ‘assets’ (house, farms, etc). In effect, it seems that the target has become political rather than about reducing fire risk. There is also evidence that some fire regimes being imposed on some landscapes may be causing ecological harm or even potentially increasing fuel loads through changing vegetation structure.

Continue reading “Fuel reduction of limited value in reducing fire risk”

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