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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

More frequent fires threaten snow gums

Fire has had a significant role in shaping mountain ecosystems in Australia for millions of years. But climate change is making our fire seasons more extreme and longer in duration.

What this means is that we are seeing more and more areas being burnt more frequently. In the case of the Victorian mountains, I have seen some areas of alpine ash and snow gums that have been burnt three times in a decade. Each year it feels like the world is getting poorer as these forests are impacted time and again, potentially beyond their ability to recover.

It’s the same story everywhere. Who can forget the devastating fires in Tasmania over the summer of 2016?

As we hear warnings that this summers fire season may be a bad one, massive fires are raging across much of western North America, causing many people to flee from their homes and communities. Vast areas of land are being burnt. For instance one fire in California swept through an area called Nelder Grove, which is home to 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees. Human assets like historical buildings are also being threatened or destroyed.

There are fires across much of the rest of the northern hemisphere too. Check the incredible maps in this article entitled ‘This is how much of the world is currently on fire’.

Recent research here in Australia demonstrates that fire impacts are growing on snow gum forests and will continue to do so in future. Mountain Journal has reported on a number of these reports in the past. A new report from researchers at Melbourne University has a shocking message: ‘over 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has been burned at least once since 2003. What is of greater concern though, is that each of the large fires of the last 15 years has overlapped to some extent, leaving thousands of hectares of snow gums burned by wildfire twice, and sometimes three times’.

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As we get older, the forests get younger

In recent weeks we have heard the astonishing news that ‘up to half’ of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef may have died in the past two years. This confirms the worst fears of environmentalists and scientists and has led to an outpouring of grief by many people. It seems that, day by day, our world gets poorer as we lose iconic landscapes.

Many people know it: they can see landscapes that are disappearing or changing before their eyes. ‘Climate tourism’ (‘see the glaciers before they melt’) is actually a thing. Yet we continue, as a society, as if everything is normal.

Continue reading “As we get older, the forests get younger”

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”

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