Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps


climate change

There is only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash left in Victoria

Alpine Ash, a quintessential tree of the Australian Alps, which is restricted to higher elevations, mostly between 900 m and 1,450 m in Victoria and southern New South Wales, has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

And world renowned forest researcher David Lindenmayer says that only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash is left in the state of Victoria. Let that sink in for a moment.

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Research into Snow Gum dieback continues

Snow gums are experiencing dieback in Kosciuszko National Park, largely because of the impacts of the native longicorn (or ‘longhorn’) beetle. These beetles prefer to lay their eggs on moisture-stressed trees and, in warmer weather, the longicorn beetle can hatch and grow up to 75% faster (reports here). This has been linked to climate change because of warmer temperatures in alpine areas.

So far, impacts seem to be limited to areas in the Snowy Mountains among two distinct subspecies of snow gum – in the Guthega and Perisher areas and parts of Thredbo.

This is an update on the research into the impacts of dieback in these areas.

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Climate change may push some species to higher elevations

We know that climate change poses an existential threat to the mountain environments that we love. A new study reveals that mountain-dwelling plants and animals fleeing warming temperatures by retreating to higher elevations may ‘find refuge from reduced human pressure’.

Being northern hemisphere based, it is of limited value here in Australia because our habitation in, and use of, mountainous areas is very different to Europe or Asia. However, it is another reminder that, as species, move uphill as temperatures climb, there is a real risk that true alpine environments will ‘run out of mountain’ and be lost for all time.

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Fire impacts on the alpine treeline

Australia only has a tiny portion of it’s landmass which is sub alpine or alpine. We know that climate change is already impacting on mountain environments, and without meaningful action to reduce greenhouse emissions, this will only continue.

The true alpine zone, that area above the treeline, is tiny relative to the landmass. The tree line is the highest elevation that sustains tree growth and is around 1,800 metres above sea level in mountain areas on the mainland (lower in Tasmania). The tree line is mainly defined by the gradual disappearance of snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora), which are a type of Eucalyptus that can withstand the severe cold and dry conditions of the mountains. The tree line is defined by temperature, not altitude, which explains why Australia has a lower tree line than most other countries.

As the climate warms, it can be expected that snow gums will be able to colonise the open alpine terrain above. This will lead to the loss of the true alpine vegetation, as these communities are ‘pushed off the top’ of the mountains and replaced by snow gum woodland. New research sheds light on this process, and has shown the role that fire plays in how snow gums encroach of alpine zones.

A research paper titled ‘Alpine treeline ecotone stasis in the face of recent climate change and disturbance by fire’ (available here) and authored by Aviya Naccarella, John W. Morgan, Seraphina C. Cutler, and Susanna E. Venn considers the interaction between fire, climate change and the treeline. In short, and as you would expect, this research suggests that more frequent fire slows the rate of colonisation of trees above treeline.

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Back in early March (that seems like two years ago) Protect Our Winters (POW) launched #CrushItForClimate which asked people who love the outdoors to support POW’s efforts to ‘educate, organize and advocate on climate change’.

The idea was to get outdoors and do what you love, while also supporting POW’s work. Since then, more than 400,000 people have been inspired to embark on a climate advocacy journey while scaling and achieving their goals, even as the Coronavirus lockins started.

If you check the Instagram account there are wonderful images of people running, climbing, skiing, riding, and paddling in incredible landscapes. But now its starting to transition into indoor pursuits. It’s definitely worth a look for some couch bound inspiration.

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‘Australia’s Environment Report’ identifies impacts on alpine areas

The annual Australia’s Environment Report summarises a large number of observations on the trajectory of our natural resources and ecosystems. It is prepared by the Centre for Water and Landscape Dynamics at the Australian National University (ANU).

As part of their report for 2019, they prepared an assessment of alpine areas. With hot weather, terrible fires, and dry conditions we already know how bad summer was for the mountains. This report quantifies some of the impacts.

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Interview: Vicki Adams

Vicki recently helped establish Outdoors People for Climate Action, which aims to engage people who work in or love the outdoors with the Climate Movement. This will help to mobilise a group of people with strong connections to wild and natural places, and connect them with the movement which is working to protect these areas from the long term impacts of climate change.

Vicki has decided to devote 2020 to climate action. As part of our series of interviews with people with connections to the mountains and outdoors, Vicki shared some thoughts on her work and connections to place.

The interview is available here.

Energy experts call for halt to Snowy 2.0

Back in 2017, the Federal Government announced a feasibility study into the possible expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the Snowy Mountains of NSW.  It was billed as being a circuit breaker in the ongoing impass in the ‘fossil fuels vs renewables’ energy debate because it would be renewable energy that will provide baseload capacity. The project would greatly enhance the pumped hydro capacity of the existing hydro scheme, meaning that water can be used multiple times to produce electricity.

While some environmentalists gave in principle support to the project, many wanted to see the details on what the physical environmental impacts of the project would be. In 2019, the NSW government released the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) into the project. This showed the level of physical impact of the project. The National Parks Association of NSW said in response that the EIS ‘proposes a completely unacceptable level of damage to Kosciusko National Park’. It has been expected that the project will soon receive approval for its EIS from the NSW government.

Now a group of thirty Australian energy experts have called for a halt to the hydro scheme.

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SOCIAL MEDIA ACTION: Support science-based Emissions Reduction Targets in Vic!

We all know that unchecked climate change poses an existential threat to the wild places we know and love.

This is a global problem, and requires a co-ordinated global solution. But all states, governments and communities also need to play their part. And we have a huge opportunity to see Victoria leap forward and start the transition away from it’s current reliance on fossil fuels.

This is a simple (and hopefully, creative) action that only takes a few minutes to do.

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