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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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land management

Parks Victoria releases feral horse action plan for comment

Parks Victoria (PV) have released an updated draft action plan outlining feral horse management intentions over the next ten years.

You have until Friday 23 April to provide comment on the plan.

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Where the Water Starts

Richard Swain loves the bush and wildlife of the southern ranges of New South Wales, where he was born. Richard’s deep connection to country and skill as a river guide led him and his partner, Alison to set up Alpine River Adventures. A successful business is now threatened by low water levels in the Snowy River. They both consider climate change is impacting the environment they love.

Where the Water starts is a film that explores connection to place and the impacts of climate change and feral animals on the Snowy Mountains.

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Dead forests making bushfires worse

We know that climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense. This is happening globally. It has enormous implications for the landscapes that we love, how we prepare for and fight fires, and even how we live in fire prone areas.

These fires are transforming the landscapes we know and love. Anyone who has driven out of Jindabyne into the Snowy Mountains, or Mt Beauty towards the Bogong High Plains knows what I am talking about – endless walls of grey, dead trees. Only 0.47% of old growth Alpine Ash still exists in Victoria. This has huge implications for the aesthetics of our mountain areas, and significant ecological implications.

Increased fire frequency could see mountain forests like Alpine Ash replaced by wattle woodlands. As recently noted by Brett McNamara, the manager of Namadgi National Park:

Recovery happens but it is “tainted with a sense of what does the future hold for us if we are to experience fire again and again with such intensity. This is where the question is unanswered. What these mountains will look like well into the future?”

The huge volumes of dead trees from previous fires also creates a lot of fuel that is already dry and hence ready to burn in future fires. What are the implications of this for our fire fighting and land management efforts?

Continue reading “Dead forests making bushfires worse”

Increase in lightning strikes expected to ignite more wildfires

Lightning strikes are one of the main causes of wildfire in Australia. As the planet’s temperature warms, the frequency of lightning strikes is expected to grow with it.

Currently, lightning strikes the earth’s surface nearly eight million times a day. This number is expected to ‘dramatically increase’ as global temperatures rise, according to a study published by Science. The U.S., for example, could experience a 50% increase in the number of lightning strikes by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

This increase is already being felt in Australia and has implications for how we plan for, and fight fire. Because they start from a single point, lightning caused fires are initially small and can be easily contained before they turn into blazes, if there are ground crews or planes or helicopters available. As was shown by last summer’s fires, in a bad season, we simply don’t have enough resources to do this.

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Federal government rejects key recommendation from Royal Commission

Australia’s fires over the summer of 2019/20 were unprecedented in scale and level of destruction. Fuelled by climate change, the hottest and driest year ever recorded resulted in fires that burned through more than 17 million hectares, killed up to 3 billion animals, and affected nearly 80% of Australians. This included the tragic loss of over 450 lives from the fires and smoke.

Aerial firefighting capacity – planes and helicopters – are an essential component of Australia’s ability to respond to bushfires. This was demonstrated in the 2019-2020 bushfire season, when an unprecedented use of aircraft occurred. However last summer also showed that we simply don’t have enough aircraft to fight fires in a bad season. This puts landscapes, people, towns and houses, and fire fighters at risk.

The recent Bushfire Royal Commission report recommended the creation of a national publicly-owned aerial firefighting fleet, which can then be allocated to the states “according to greatest national need”.

Continue reading “Federal government rejects key recommendation from Royal Commission”

Fires hitting mountain environments around the world

Last summer, large sections of the mountains of New South Wales, Victoria and ACT were hammered by bushfire. The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action noted that: ‘Australia’s Black Summer fires over 2019 and 2020 were unprecedented in scale and levels of destruction’. 

The same terrible fires have been burning environments across the northern hemisphere through their summer. For instance, Colorado has seen its largest ever fires. Fires have burnt on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, and in the north east of the USA, a region that rarely burns. One fire chief in Maine said “this was a whole new kind of fire, this is the stuff you see out west.”

And the same forces are at play everywhere: climate change is making fire seasons more intense. The world has warmed as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment. Thankfully this awareness is now becoming part of the mainstream debate.

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A Fire Management Plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) is a World Heritage Site in Tasmania. It is one of the largest conservation areas in Australia, covering 15,800 km², or almost 20% of lutruwita/ Tasmania. It is also one of the last great expanses of temperate wilderness in the world.

In recent summer’s, significant sections of the TWWHA have been devastated by bushfires. The 2018/19 fires were especially destructive.

Fire is perhaps the greatest challenge for the management of the TWWHA, particularly in the context of climate change. With the September 2020 release by the Parks and Wildlife Service of a range of discussion papers for public comment, the state is moving towards the development of a Fire Management Plan for the TWWHA, as recommended by the 2016 report by Tony Press (Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project) and prescribed by the 2016 TWWHA Management Plan. 

How have the papers been received by conservationists?

Continue reading “A Fire Management Plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area”

The independent review of the 2019/20 fires

Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian fire season 

After the 2019–20 Victorian fire season, the Inspector-General for Emergency Management was charged with ‘investigating Victoria’s preparedness for the fire season, response to fires in large parts of Victoria’s North East, Gippsland, and Alpine regions, and will review relief and recovery efforts’.

On 31 July 2020, Inspector-General Tony Pearce delivered his report to government on Phase 1 of the independent Inquiry. It covered ‘Community and sector preparedness for and response to the 2019–20 fire season’.  The report made a series of Observations and recommendations.  It has now been made public. The government now needs to decide how to respond to the report and the recommendations.

The take home message from the report is:

‘Measured in terms of their geographic extent, the tragic loss of life, the damage to property and infrastructure, the devastation to flora and fauna, and their overall social and political impacts, the 2019– 20 fires mark a key turning point in Australia’s relationship with fire and the environment’. 

Continue reading “The independent review of the 2019/20 fires”

Joining the dots on climate change and fire

Last summer, the Murdoch press played down the influence of climate change on the terrible fire season we experienced across much of the continent. Instead, they promoted the ‘arsonists are to blame’ line, which was then amplified across social media by climate deniers around the world, including one of Donald Trump’s sons.

While the hand of global warming was clear in that fire season, and this has been accepted in the various investigations carried out into the fires, conservative media and right wing deniers continue to peddle the falsehood that arsonists are to blame for bad fire seasons. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry debunked arson as a major cause in the fires that devastated that state. (Another favourite line run by conservatives is that a lack of hazard reduction burning also made fires worse).

study on the fires after the 2019/20 fires by the World Weather Attribution consortium showed that although “natural variation was very important and will continue to be important in fueling these large fire seasons”, climate change is making them “substantially more probable.” 

Now, with much of the west of the North American continent on fire, the same debate is being played out over there.

Continue reading “Joining the dots on climate change and fire”

Namadgi feral horse plan released

Wild horses pose a major threat to the Australian High Country. One of the dilemmas faced by land managers is that horse populations can cross borders to recolonise ecosystems if populations are removed in one state. Cross border collaboration between Victoria, NSW and the ACT is a key part of dealing with the problem.

The ACT Government has sent a strong message to its NSW and Victorian counterparts with the release of the Feral Horse Management Plan for Namadgi national park, which was devastated in last summer’s fires.

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‘Deputy premier’s attack on NSW parks service condemned’

As the long debate over management of wild horse populations continues, the NSW deputy premier John Barilaro has launched an extraordinary attack on the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW environment minister Matt Kean.

Campaign group Reclaim Kosci has condemned the comments and says that there is a risk that the public debate could be reduced to a ‘slanging match on talkback radio’ rather than a mature, policy focused conversation.

Continue reading “‘Deputy premier’s attack on NSW parks service condemned’”

Poll shows Eden-Monaro voters want action on feral horses

A new poll of Eden-Monaro voters released today has found that most people want feral horses removed from Kosciuszko National Park, where horse numbers have tripled in the past five years.

Ahead of the July 4 by-election, an independent poll asked 643 Eden-Monaro voters what should be done about feral horses, which are devastating Kosciuszko National Park’s unique plants and animals and destroying its once pristine waterways.

Continue reading “Poll shows Eden-Monaro voters want action on feral horses”

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