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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

What are the ecological costs of this summer’s fires?

In mid December, large fires started in East Gippsland. On new year’s eve, lightning storms started fires across the Victorian mountains and fire season came to the Alps with a vengeance.

Since then, huge areas of the Victorian Alps and Snowy Mountains have burnt. As at January 14, many of these are still going and, of course, the key priority is containing them.

But once it’s all over, we will need to count the ecological cost of these fires. Some areas in the Alps have now burnt three times in about 15 years. There is no doubt that longer fire seasons, driven by climate change, are already impacting on mountain and foothill environments.

The short answer at this stage is that we just don’t know what the full ecological impacts of these fires will be.

The following is a fairly random collection of reports on local impacts of the fires on mountain areas. It focuses on ecological values and impacts. Of course, this does not mean that human and economic impacts don’t matter. The narrow focus here is simply to try and share some information about what the impacts will be on natural systems, as the other stories are already being told widely in mainstream media. It will be added to as areas are re-opened to the public. I would welcome your reports for inclusion: please email text and stories to cam.walker@foe.org.au

Continue reading “What are the ecological costs of this summer’s fires?”

2020 fires: get into the mountains and spend up big (when you can)

Up until Christmas, there hadn’t been a lot of fires in the High Country, either in Tasmania or on the mainland. That all changed on New Years Eve. Lightning storms triggered fires across Tasmanian, Victoria and NSW. What followed has been nothing less than an absolute disaster as huge areas of the mountains have burnt – and continue to do so.

With large areas evacuated, the economic impacts on local economies has been devastating. This is peak tourism season, yet entire areas are under evacuation orders, businesses are closed and events are being cancelled. The flow on effects on many people’s income will continue for months. 

I am seeing many people who are struggling because their region or business is closed. Even where a town is open, the ever present smoke in many places is not very enticing to tourists.

So once the fires are under control, please have a think about doing a trip to the High Country. Aim to head off with your wallet full and your stomach, esky and food basket empty.

Continue reading “2020 fires: get into the mountains and spend up big (when you can)”

Big fire day across the mountains

[WED Jan 1UPDATE: I am away with the CFA at present and not in a position to update this page until further notice so please don’t rely on it for updates – please check the relevant government agency websites which you will find if you scroll down. Thanks]

There are some links on how to support recovery and emergency efforts available here.

And I’m still doing some updates on the Mountain Journal facebook page, mostly around park and road closures.

[Monday December 30 2019]

Here we go. We have a long, hot, scary day ahead of us, with extreme fire risk across all mountain areas.

In Victoria, authorities are calling on all people in East Gippsland (east of Bairnsdale) to leave the area, in case the Princes Highway needs to be closed. Mountain communities like Goongerah are at imminent risk of being hit by fires. The W Tree Yalmy fire is still not yet under control, nor is the Ensay Ferntree fire. Firefighters and aircraft are responding to four new fires north-west of Gelantipy which were started by dry lightning earlier his morning.

In NSW there has already been at least one small fire started by dry lightning in the Snowy Mountains (it is under control).

In Tasmania, today is a Day of Total Fire Ban, but authorities warn that tomorrow could be even worse, and that people in bushland areas should consider leaving for urban areas.

Continue reading “Big fire day across the mountains”

Wildfires in remote Tasmania

It’s been an absolutely brutal fire season around the country, and we are not even into full summer yet. Among the horror list of lost lives, homes and other infrastructure, millions of animals killed, damage to water catchments and farmland, there has also been devastating impacts on wild places.

Rainforest that ‘is not meant to burn’ has been on fire in northern NSW and QLD, the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains have been hammered, the Budawang Ranges in NSW have been badly burnt, and there are enormous and ‘not yet under control’ fires in the mountain foothills of East Gippsland.

While there were devastating fires in Tasmania last summer, so far, the mountains in that state have been spared fires. Perhaps the situation is now changing, with four fires in remote areas recently started through lightning strike. 

Continue reading “Wildfires in remote Tasmania”

Fire season frontline in VIC: East Gippsland and North East Alps

In the Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook produced in August, it was clear that East Gippsland and the Alps were facing a long and difficult fire season. Even though it is only early December, there have already been a series of large fires on both public and private land in both these sections of the state.

The ABC reports:

There have been six fires of significance over the past two weeks in East Gippsland.

Authorities were most concerned about fires near Gelantipy, Bruthen, and Ensay.

The fires were caused by dry lightning that ignited dozens of fires along the Great Dividing Range.

Incident controller Andy Gillham said the Country Fire Authority and DELWP were not caught off-guard by the fires.

“With all the modelling that has been done by the fire researchers, they said it would be an above-average season for East Gippsland,” he said.

“Because the landscape is so dry we had lightning and fires. We did have an early start to the season, but we weren’t caught off-guard”.

Check the Emergency VIC website for updates on fires.

 

 

Climate change impacts on VIC mountains – less snow, more fires

The Victorian government has recently released the ‘Climate Science Report 2019’, which brings together the latest climate change science knowledge gained from the government’s ongoing investigations into climate science. The report provides further useful insights into both how our climate is changing and what it means for Victoria’s future.

In many ways, there is nothing new in the report. It notes that Victoria’s climate has ‘changed in recent decades, becoming warmer and drier’. These changes are expected to continue in the future.

In general terms, the state’s environment is becoming hotter and drier, with

  • an overall increase in the frequency of unusually hot days
  • a decline in cool season rainfall over the last 30 years
  • greater number of very high fire danger days in spring

There are some details relevant to mountain environments, which we will outline briefly below (as direct quotes).

Continue reading “Climate change impacts on VIC mountains – less snow, more fires”

Fires close a number of mountain areas in NE VIC

There are a number of fires that have started as a result of lightning strikes in the Victorian High Country.

There are three fires in the north east that have caused a number of areas to be closed to walkers – these are to the east of Mt Bogong and two along the eastern side of the Bogong High Plains.

Additionally, there are 13 fires in total burning in remote areas of forest in north east Victoria. The other fires are located in the Tallangatta Valley, Dandongadale, Abbeyard and Mount Selwyn.

DELWP says: ‘The remote locations of these fires are proving to be challenging for our crews and we fully expect them to burn for a number of weeks as firefighters work hard to contain them’.

Authorities say that the fires are behaving in ways expected in January and February as fuel loads are so dry.

Continue reading “Fires close a number of mountain areas in NE VIC”

‘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.”

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