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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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fire

Kuark forest after the fires

The old growth forest of Kuark is (I can’t bring myself to say ‘was’) a jewel in the wild landscape of East Gippsland. It provides habitat for threatened species such as the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls, Greater gliders and Long footed potoroos, and is a rare rainforest type where warm and cool temperate rainforest blend together in an ‘over lap’ assemblage.

There was a long campaign, led by Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and The Wilderness Society to see the Kuark protected. It had considerable success, and was scheduled to be fully protected under a Bill in parliament to include Kuark in the Errinundra National Park.

Then this summer happened. I watched in horror as parts of the legendary Errinundra Plateau burnt and the rainforests of Martins Creek were devastated. I hadn’t heard news of the Kuark until now.

Ed Hill led the campaign to protect the Kuark forest. He has been up there recently. This is his report.

Continue reading “Kuark forest after the fires”

Inquiry into the 2019-20 Victorian Fire Season

This summer’s fires had a devastating impact on the environment and economies of the Victorian, NSW and ACT mountains.

Now, the Victorian government, through the Inspector-General for Emergency Management or IGEM, is holding an inquiry into ‘Victoria’s preparedness for and response to the 2019-20 fire season’. You can make a submission to this process.

Continue reading “Inquiry into the 2019-20 Victorian Fire Season”

Research highlights the fire threat to King Billy Pine

Tasmania is home to a treasure trove of ancient vegetation that emerged when Australia was part of the Gondwanda super continent. Most of the relict vegetation is not fire adapted (fire being a relatively recent arrival to Australia compared to Gondwanaland). Widespread wildfires in early 2016 caused devastating damage across large areas of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, including significant sections of vegetation which is not fire adapted, such as Pencil Pine forests.

At the time, and in follow up investigations, it became clear that increased fire risk due to climate change posed an existential threat to these vegetation types. Now additional research has confirmed the trend towards more extreme fire seasons. It suggests that we reached a ‘tipping point’ sometime around the year 2000and that, since then, there has been an increase in the number of lightning-caused fires and an increase in the average size of the fires, “resulting in a marked increase in the area burnt”.

Research just released through the journal Global Change Biology, titled ‘Population collapse and retreat to fire refugia of the Tasmanian endemic conifer Athrotaxis selaginoides following the transition from Aboriginal to European fire management’ underscores the threat posed to these forest types.

Continue reading “Research highlights the fire threat to King Billy Pine”

Global warming played a ‘big role’ in generating heat waves that fueled the 2019-2020 fire season

This summer’s fires had devastating impacts on landscapes and local economies.

For the first time in eight months, all the NSW fires are out. The Namadgi fires are out, as are the fires in north east Victoria and East Gippsland. During the fires, there was an attempt by some groups to blame the fires on arson as a way of avoiding the conversation about climate change. There is the ongoing debate about the role of fuel reduction burning as a way to reduce the intensity of fire, plus the broader conversation about how we manage our forests and wild places, and whether salvage logging of burnt areas should be allowed.

Now, a ground-breaking report has shown that climate change was a ‘massive factor’ in the extreme fire conditions that devastated Australia this summer.

The report was prepared by World Weather Attribution (WWA), which ‘is an international effort to analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events, such as storms, extreme rainfall, heatwaves, cold spells, and droughts’.

Continue reading “Global warming played a ‘big role’ in generating heat waves that fueled the 2019-2020 fire season”

Show your support for horse removal from the Snowy Mountains

Following this summer’s fires, which burnt roughly 12% of the ‘Alpine Complex’ vegetation in the Snowy Mountains, there are growing concerns about the impact of wild horses on already fragile country that is now recovering from fire.

The current NSW government has continually failed to act to protect the NSW High Country, by refusing to support horse removal programs. But in a surprise move, the NSW environment minister, Matt Kean, recently announced that ‘about’ 4,000 feral horses will be removed from Kosciuszko national park as ‘part of an emergency response to protect the alpine ecosystem after large areas were devastated by bushfires’.

The move would be the largest removal of horses in the park’s history.

Continue reading “Show your support for horse removal from the Snowy Mountains”

Warburton residents call for halt to logging proposal on Mt Bride

Community members from Warburton are attempting to stop the proposed logging coupes on and surrounding Mt Bride.

They say that “logging this area will reduce water security as the proposed coupes are within water catchment areas and it has long been recognised that logging has a negative impact on water yield”.

They also say that the coupes will increase fire risk, “as the micro climatic conditions will dry out the understory and the regrowth saplings will create more fuel”.

Continue reading “Warburton residents call for halt to logging proposal on Mt Bride”

Do we need a new remote area volunteer firefighting force?

On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019, a front brought a smattering of rain across the Victorian mountains, barely enough to damp down the dust. But the associated lightning storm started dozens of new fires in a long belt from Mt Buller to the NSW border.

Forest Fire Management crews swung into action and many of these were quickly put out. Aerial bombing dealt with others. But there were simply too many, and some grew into massive blazes, including some that went on to devastate the forests and landscapes of East Gippsland in coming weeks.

This raises the question: Do we need a new remote area volunteer firefighting force in Victoria who could help suppress lightning strike fires before they take off?

Continue reading “Do we need a new remote area volunteer firefighting force?”

Are Errinundra’s rainforests now burning?

The fires across East Gippsland this summer have had devastating impacts on land and forests, waterways and native species, local economies and people’s lives and properties.

One glimmer of good news has been the fact that many of the cool temperate rainforest strong holds have been spared from much of the fire. Most of the famed Kuark forest has not burnt (or has possibly been ‘burnt lightly’ according to reports from the field), and the Errinundra Plateau has been spared any major fires. It appears that the Goolengook rainforest has been partially burnt. (Extra info here).

But now there are reports that back burning operations were carried out several days ago between the VIC/NSW border and the Errinundra Plateau, in order to save the Bondi pine plantations in southern NSW. Yesterday (JAN 30) in the 40 degree heat, the fires from these spotted across the Coast Range Road into the most valuable area of the Errinundra national park. The scale of these fires is not yet known.

We will update as additional information comes to hand.

[With thanks to Jill Redwood for this information]

Continue reading “Are Errinundra’s rainforests now burning?”

Fires and snow gums. To keep these forests we need less fire.

Fires are still burning out of control across much of the Australian High Country. Yet we are already well into the blame game, where some people and groups are blaming environmental activists and/ or The Greens party for ‘stopping’ fuel reduction burning and hence making the fires worse. While this is not true, this resonates with certain anti green and conservative demographics (check here for an alternative view of the conversation).

There is no doubt that fuel reduction burning has a role to play in how we manage forests and other landscapes. The problem is that it is often seen as a ‘one size fits all’ tool that will reduce fire intensity in all environments. But in reality, it works well in some ecosystems and is counter productive in others. This is a subtlety that is lost on the ‘fuel reduction is the answer’ boosters.

The argument that we need to increase fuel reduction burns in snow gum and true alpine environments is already caught up in the broader land management debate, and will continue in the coming months. So it’s worth taking a good look at what science says about the value of fuel reduction in our high mountain areas.

Continue reading “Fires and snow gums. To keep these forests we need less fire.”

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