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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

‘Have You Considered Relocating Because of Climate Change?’

A decade ago, I moved from Melbourne to Castlemaine in Central Victoria. Box and Ironbark, Peppermint and Yellow Gum country. Hilly sandstone country. The land of the Jaara people. It took me a while, but I fell in love with the place, and now its home.

But even at the start, I remember thinking ‘this is a crazy place to live in a time of climate change’. Already hot and dry in summer, its going to get hotter and drier in coming years and experience worse water stress. It’s the same story all over. Climate change is already happening, and bringing impacts everywhere. Along the inland rivers, towns are running out of water. Along the coast, at places like Inverloch, storm surge is stripping away coastlines. In Mildura, the town had 65 days last summer that were above the heatwave threshold. Parts of Australia are expected to become uninsurable because of more regular flooding. And in the mountains, our winters are already becoming more erratic. It goes on and on. Nowhere is immune.

We are all familiar with the plight of climate refugees – people whose environment or economy is so impacted by the effects of climate change that they have no choice but to move. Mostly these are seen as people in the global South – the ‘developing’ world (although Hurricane Katrina, which devastated much of the USA’s South and displaced millions, shows that this is also a reality even in the rich world).

Something that I have noticed in recent years is a growing number of people who have opted to move from choice, not necessity, who are seeking a friendlier climate. I have lost count of the people I know or have met who have bought land in Tasmania, especially in the south west or north east. Some of them don’t live there: they have bought land as a safety net in case it goes to shit on the mainland. I know people from north east Victoria, in towns like Wangaratta, who have moved to the cooler and wetter hills of South Gippsland. There are people who have swapped the dry inland slopes of Central VIC for the lusher coasts of the Otways. And I know people who have left the hill country of Gippsland and Central Highlands, tired from the relentless stress of ever worsening fire seasons.

Continue reading “‘Have You Considered Relocating Because of Climate Change?’”

An ‘unprecedented’ number of plume dominated fires.

We know that climate change is driving hotter and drier summers, and making fire seasons worse, and this is already impacting on mountain environments. Last summer there were significant fires across eastern Victoria and the Victorian Mountains, as well as in Tasmania. While the largest one burned in the Bunyip state park about 65km east of Melbourne, there were also fires which closed the Southern Alps and Foothills areas of the Alpine National Park, especially around Dargo and Licola.

One of the features of these fires was the formation of pyrocumulus clouds (as shown in the image above, taken from the north of the fire burning out of the Dargo River and onto the Dargo High Plains, with Mt Blowhard in the foreground). The Licola fire burnt with such ferocity it was visible on the Bureau of Meteorology’s radar. A huge thundercloud formed from the fire, which then produced more than 1,200 lightning strikes, some of which sparked new fires. It created unpredictable weather conditions that hampered fire fighting efforts.

Continue reading “An ‘unprecedented’ number of plume dominated fires.”

Getting ready for the fires of the future

We know that climate change is driving hotter and drier summers, and making fire seasons worse, and this is impacting on mountain environments. From the huge fires in Tasmania over the 2018/ 19 summer to repeated wildfire in the Victorian Alps which is changing the nature of ecosystems, fire is increasingly impacting negatively on mountain ecosystems. We also know that we need to expect a ‘highly active’ fire season this summer.

While the impacts on natural systems is obvious, there are also many economic ones, as longer and more dangerous fire seasons see mountain areas closed to tourism and other economic activity.

There is also the threat to the ability of fire fighting services to fight fires wherever they emerge. Traditionally, the various fire services share resources, both between the states and internationally. But as fire seasons become longer, there is more overlap of local fire seasons, and hence it is harder for individual states to release fire fighting equipment and crews to support other areas.

The economic cost of fighting fires also goes up.

And as demands on fire fighting agencies increase, there is the risk that ‘asset management’ (protection of human structures) can override the need to protect sensitive natural environments where there simply aren’t enough resources to fight all the fires.

Recently, 23 emergency services experts from every state and territory have written to the federal government, asking for strategic national firefighting resources to cope with climate change.  They have joined together to highlight the risks of worse and more sustained fire seasons to our ability to fight fires in an effective and timely fashion.

Continue reading “Getting ready for the fires of the future”

‘highly active’ fire season expected

Fires are, of course, a natural part of the Australian landscape. There are remnants of Gondwanic vegetation, especially in Tasmania, that are extremely fire sensitive, and fire should be excluded from these communities wherever possible. But fire is a regular feature of our mountain and foothill environments.

However, fire seasons are becoming longer and more extreme and this is impacting on mountain environments. From the huge fires in Tasmania over the 2018/ 19 summer to repeated wildfire in the Victorian Alps which is changing the nature of ecosystems, fire is increasingly impacting negatively on mountain ecosystems.

What does this summer look like in terms of fire risk in the mountains? The Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook August 2019 has just been released and points to a ‘highly active’ fire season.

Continue reading “‘highly active’ fire season expected”

Documenting Tasmania’s threatened Gondwana vegetation

Fires burnt large areas of Tasmania last summer. A recent independent review of fire fighting efforts found there had been some errors in how fires were tackled, but there were also innovative developments (like using sprinkler systems to fire sensitive vegetation).

We know that significant areas of fire sensitive vegetation were impacted by the fires. We also know that climate change will bring ever more serious fire seasons, putting these remnant vegetation communities at greater risk.

A group of people have banded together to make a film about this endangered vegetation. They say the ‘Tasmanian Gondwana film aims to raise awareness of the extraordinary value and beauty of Tasmania’s unique paleo-endemic communities. It comes in the wake of the 2016 and 2019 wildfires in western Tasmania that threatened and burnt large areas of ancient Gondwanan vegetation’.

They have launched a crowd fund campaign to enable the film to be produced.

Continue reading “Documenting Tasmania’s threatened Gondwana vegetation”

Independent review of the management of 2018/19 Tasmanian fires

Over the summer of 2018/19 huge fires burnt across Tasmania. An independent review of Tasmania’s management of the summer bushfires has just been released. It found inadequacies in the response to a fire burning near Geeveston, and revealed that crews withdrew from the Gell River fire in Tasmania’s southwest in the mistaken belief it was out. The fire then expanded again and became out of control.

It makes a series of recommendations for the fire services and government, including a proposal to re-establish a volunteer remote area firefighter group. The report, from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) also gives an update on the ecological impacts of the fires. An earlier ecological assessment is here.

Continue reading “Independent review of the management of 2018/19 Tasmanian fires”

Increased bushfire risk the New Normal

Australian summers are getting drier and hotter as the Earth’s temperature rises and this is leading to longer and more intense bushfire seasons. On the mainland, we are seeing more frequent fires in the mountains – for instance, in the Mt Hotham area we have seen three serious fires in less than 15 years, which has devastated huge areas of snow gum and alpine ash forests. Snow gum forests are changing under the onslaught of more frequent fire regimes.

In Tasmania, huge fires burnt across Tasmania for months last summer, threatening fire sensitive communities. More than 100,000 hectares were burnt in Victoria. As is becoming increasingly obvious, this is the ‘new normal’. This has implications for landscapes and water supplies, how we manage fires, and how we live in the landscape. This is happening in forests around the world, and people who have traditionally lived in forested areas are having to re-assess how they can do this safely in a time of heightened fire risk.

Continue reading “Increased bushfire risk the New Normal”

How has Tasmania’s climate changed?

Climate change is already affecting the landscape of Tasmania through more intense fire seasons. This threatens species like the Pencil Pine. In the last few decades, there has been an increase in fires caused by dry lightning strikes, and this has been impacting on vegetation types that are not fire adapted.

A recent review of how much climate change has already impacted on Tasmania highlights how broad these effects are on the landscape.

Erin Cooper, writing for the ABC, identified the following impacts that are being felt in mountain areas.

Continue reading “How has Tasmania’s climate changed?”

An update on the ecological costs of the 2019 Tasmania fires

Bushfires, which were started by lightning strikes, burnt large areas of Tasmania last summer.

There have been fears expressed by ecologists that large areas of fire sensitive vegetation have been impacted.

An initial desk top assessment carried out by researchers at the University of Tasmania suggested that the areas of these vegetation types affected was very small.

In March, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service updated their assessment, which also stated that only small areas of vegetation types that are rated ‘Extreme fire sensitive’ (containing components that will not recover from fire, such as rainforest with king billy pine, alpine conifer communities, alpine deciduous beech communities and rainforest with deciduous beech) and ‘very High fire sensitive’ communities (including alpine and subalpine heathland without conifers, rainforest without conifers, and mixed forest) had been affected.

Now, an additional assessment, by the Tasmanian National Parks Association (TNPA), adds further detail to our understanding of the impacts of this summer’s fires.

Continue reading “An update on the ecological costs of the 2019 Tasmania fires”

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