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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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fire

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.”

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

In late November, fires started in East Gippsland as a result of lightning strikes. As noted by Peter Gardner, these went on to become major blazes. 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?”

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”

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”

‘The Rainforests are burning’

In 2016 and 2019, large areas of Tasmania were burnt by wild fires, including vegetation that is normally too moist to burn. Last year it happened in rainforests on the Lamington Tablelands in south east Queensland. It is a highly unusual event for these areas to burn, but one that appears to be occurring more frequently in recent times. Now the same thing is happening in northern New South Wales.

This loss and destruction of ancient fire sensitive ecosystems is heartbreaking. Sending much love and solidarity to our friends in the North who are facing these terrible fires.

Continue reading “‘The Rainforests are burning’”

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