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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

‘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.

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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”

No sign of wilderness fire funding for World Heritage Areas

In recent years, wildfire has had devastating impacts on World Heritage Areas in Tasmania. The 2016 fires damaged fire sensitive areas and vegetation types, like Pencil Pines near Lake Mackenzie. Fires caused by dry lightning strikes are becoming more common since the year 2000. Yet resourcing for fighting fires in remote areas is not growing to keep up with greater fire threats.

The fires that happened this summer burnt more than 100,000 hectares, but thankfully (and based on initial estimates), it would appear that only very small areas of fire sensitive vegetation like Pencil Pine and King Billy Pine were destroyed. Innovative actions, like placing sprinklers to protect fire sensitive vegetation at Lake Rhona reduced the impacts. But it remains clear that fire fighters are under resourced to fight remote area fires. Despite sustained calls for additional resources, it would appear that the current commonwealth government isn’t coming to the party.

Continue reading “No sign of wilderness fire funding for World Heritage Areas”

Former fire chiefs demand urgent action on ‘escalating climate change threat’

We know that climate change is already impacting on Australia’s high country through longer and more intense fire seasons and increasingly erratic winter snow.

What is perhaps less obvious is the fact that emergency services are not adequately resourced to defend the mountains from worsening bushfire seasons.

This has been highlighted in the case of recent fires in Tasmania, where – even with interstate and international support – emergency services were not able to control fires in Tasmania’s world heritage areas over the summer of 2018/19. This had previously been the case in Tasmania in 2016, when precious areas of fire sensitive vegetation were destroyed. Additionally fires in the Victorian high country burnt some areas for the third time in 10 years, with the possibility of significant long term ecological impacts.

Now 23 of Australia’s most senior former emergency service bosses have come together in an unprecedented show of unity, calling on the Prime Minister to ‘get on with the job’ of reducing greenhouse gasses.

They also highlight the fact that Australia currently lacks the resources we need to fight wild fire effectively.

Continue reading “Former fire chiefs demand urgent action on ‘escalating climate change threat’”

VIC fires burn more than 100,000 ha.

It’s been a hard summer for fires, both in Tasmania and the mainland mountains. In Victoria, more than 100,000 hectares were burnt in the high country, making it another season of ‘mega fire’ (these large fires are growing in frequency under the influence of climate change).

Here’s a quick look at the major areas that were burnt:

Continue reading “VIC fires burn more than 100,000 ha.”

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