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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Kosciuszko National Park

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”

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?”

Re-homing not enough to stop Kosciuszko’s feral horse crisis

Like climate and energy policy in Australia, the alpine environment of the Snowy Mountains has fallen victim to a bizarre culture war. Conservative political parties have pandered to small groups of backwards looking constituencies, and ignored their obligations to the broader community. In the case of the Snowy Mountains, the NSW Coalition have sided with groups who think that wild horses have a cultural value that trumps their negative ecological impacts. So they have declared that feral horse populations should be protected and allowed to keep growing in numbers within the park. As a result, there has been no trapping of feral horses in the park since August 2017.

This is a poor decision on ecological grounds, and a major campaign has been mounted against this decision. Now the state government has ‘blinked’ and said they will start to remove some horses from Kosciuszko National Park and ‘rehouse’ them. However, the Invasive Species Council has warned that this plan will ‘barely make a dint in the growing number of feral horses running rampant in the park’.

The following media release comes from the Reclaim Kosci group:

Continue reading “Re-homing not enough to stop Kosciuszko’s feral horse crisis”

NSW Parliament petition highlights government inaction on Kosci horses

The NSW government’s Wild Horse Heritage Act has undermined 75 years of protection of water and alpine species by treating wild horse populations as a cultural icon that must be protected. Now, the repeal of the Act is is being debated by the NSW parliament following the tabling of a petition of more than 12,000 signatures.

While scientists and land managers are clear in pointing out the negative impacts of the horses, the NSW government has chosen to put politics over sensible land management decision making. The original Bill was proposed by the National Party. The current debate highlights the tension in the Coalition, whereby at least some in the Liberal Party can see the dangers of allowing wild horse populations to flourish in our alpine regions. However, Deputy Premier John Barilaro used the government’s majority to vote against the petition being ‘noted’.

Continue reading “NSW Parliament petition highlights government inaction on Kosci horses”

Tourism: Is more always better?

In New South Wales, the number of visits to the state’s national parks is topping more than 60 million for the first time. This is great news for regional economies – these visits generated as much as $21.35 billion in spending. It also puts pressure on our national parks and other natural areas. This highlights the need for governments to provide adequate funds for the upkeep of our parks and to manage the impacts of ever more visitors on the natural systems in the parks.

There is an interesting program underway in Colorado, which is seeking to decentralise the visitation of tourists rather than encourage more people to visit. Colorado is a huge tourism destination and this generates enormous income. However, it also causes problems for roads, resorts, national parks and local residents. In 2017, the Colorado Tourism Roadmap transformed the state’s call to encourage more tourists to visit into a more focused campaign promoting sustainable travel experiences.

Continue reading “Tourism: Is more always better?”

NSW Parliament to debate the impacts of feral horses

IT’S A PARK, NOT A PADDOCK!

On Thursday August 22 the NSW Parliament will debate the impacts of feral horses on Kosciuszko National Park.

More than 12,000 people signed the petition calling for this debate and it’s now going to happen!

The Parliament will debate repealing the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act and repairing the damage caused by hard-hooved animals. Reclaim Kosci is asking people to join them on the day to show support for this parliamentary debate.

Continue reading “NSW Parliament to debate the impacts of feral horses”

NSW fails to remove horses from Kosciuszko National Park (again)

Like climate change, conservatives are using land management policy as another proxy battlefield in the Culture War.

This is amply demonstrated by the decision by the NSW government to legislate to protect wild horses, a feral species that causes immense damage to the High Country, on the basis of their ‘cultural’ significance. As expected, horse numbers continue to grow in the Kosciuszko National Park and threaten the ecological values of the park. While there had been high hopes that common sense would prevail when Matt Kean, was appointed as the NSW Energy and Environment Minister, attempts to reduce numbers through relocation have failed to be enacted by the state government.

Peter Hannam, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, provides an update on the situation.

Continue reading “NSW fails to remove horses from Kosciuszko National Park (again)”

Snow gum die back linked to climate change

Many people know the story of the Pine beetle which has been devastating huge areas of forest across North America because of climate change.

In brief, the mountain pine beetle’s ability to survive and multiply rapidly is highly sensitive to temperature and precipitation. Warmer average temperatures allow pine beetles to complete their life cycle in just one year instead of two. Rising minimum temperatures in the Colorado Rockies have allowed more beetles to survive the winter and from 2009 to 2010, mountain pine beetle activity increased more than 10-fold, infesting 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares) on the Front Range, and killing off millions of hectares of trees in North America.

There is a similar scenario emerging in Australia’s mountain forests, although it is much less known.

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.

According to work published in the Resort Roundup winter 2019 edition (produced by the NSW government), ‘reduced snowfall, high summer temperatures such as January 2019 where temperatures at Thredbo top station were 4.4oC above average, and a reduction in autumn rainfall mean that snow gums are under much greater moisture stress than in the past.’ This means that larger beetle populations are causing more frequent dieback of some snow gum trees.

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. The main species affected is Eucalyptus niphophila. Additionally, the population of Weeping snow gum Eucalyptus lacrimans in the Long Plain area appears to be significantly impacted by longicorn beetle. At this point it does not seem that the infestation is affecting the widespread E. pauciflora subsp. pauciflora.

Apart from the visual and ecological impacts of losing these important trees, increased dieback will lead to an increase in fire risk in alpine resorts and other areas within Kosciuszko National Park. With increasing climate change, it is expected that the longhorn beetle will continue to increase in numbers and therefore its associated impacts on snow gums will also become more extensive.

This is yet another compelling reason for us to be taking serious action to respond to climate change!

Continue reading “Snow gum die back linked to climate change”

‘Kosciuszko National Park is lurching towards a crisis’

Wild horse populations pose a significant threat to alpine and sub alpine areas across the Alps. However in NSW, a campaign to have the horses protected because of their ‘cultural’ status means that impacts are growing significantly within Kosciuszko National Park. Now horse removal from the park has stopped for a second year in a row because of an intervention by NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro.

Andrew Cox, the Invasive Species Council CEO, has called this a “shameful back-down for a government claiming to prioritise protection of the environment.”

Continue reading “‘Kosciuszko National Park is lurching towards a crisis’”

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