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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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land management

Fears over Snowy River’s health without independent monitor

The Snowy Mountains scheme, built between 1949 and 1974, diverts the water of the Snowy River and some of its tributaries, much of which originally flowed southeast onto the river flats of East Gippsland, inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers irrigation areas. This has caused the health of the Snowy to decline dramatically.

Following long running campaigns, the Snowy Water Inquiry was established in January 1998. The Inquiry recommended an increase to 15% of natural flows. In 2000, Victoria and NSW agreed to a long-term target of 28%, requiring A$375 million of investment to offset losses to inland irrigators. It has been hoped that this increase in flow will help the health of the river system improve.

However there have been ongoing fears that the flows are not being properly managed in a way that will maximise environmental benefits. In 2013, the NSW Government abolished the Snowy’s scientific monitor and a replacement body, announced in 2014, has not yet been established. As pointed out recently by ecologists, without an independent monitor, there is a risk that the health of the river will go backwards.

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More frequent fires threaten snow gums

Fire has had a significant role in shaping mountain ecosystems in Australia for millions of years. But climate change is making our fire seasons more extreme and longer in duration.

What this means is that we are seeing more and more areas being burnt more frequently. In the case of the Victorian mountains, I have seen some areas of alpine ash and snow gums that have been burnt three times in a decade. Each year it feels like the world is getting poorer as these forests are impacted time and again, potentially beyond their ability to recover.

It’s the same story everywhere. Who can forget the devastating fires in Tasmania over the summer of 2016?

As we hear warnings that this summers fire season may be a bad one, massive fires are raging across much of western North America, causing many people to flee from their homes and communities. Vast areas of land are being burnt. For instance one fire in California swept through an area called Nelder Grove, which is home to 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees. Human assets like historical buildings are also being threatened or destroyed.

There are fires across much of the rest of the northern hemisphere too. Check the incredible maps in this article entitled ‘This is how much of the world is currently on fire’.

Recent research here in Australia demonstrates that fire impacts are growing on snow gum forests and will continue to do so in future. Mountain Journal has reported on a number of these reports in the past. A new report from researchers at Melbourne University has a shocking message: ‘over 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has been burned at least once since 2003. What is of greater concern though, is that each of the large fires of the last 15 years has overlapped to some extent, leaving thousands of hectares of snow gums burned by wildfire twice, and sometimes three times’.

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Snowy brumby cull plan to be shelved

The Telegraph is reporting that the state government proposal to cull ­almost the entire population of wild horses in the Snowy Mountains is set to be shelved after a government deadlock.

Sadly it seems that the ‘horses are a cultural icon and must be protected’ interests have won out (for the time being) over sensible land management. For a summary of the environmental impacts of wild horses, check here.

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The 2017 Alpine Industry Conference

The Alpine Resorts Co-ordinating Council (ARCC) holds an Alpine Industry Conference each year. They are described as ‘bringing together government, government partner agencies, researchers, and private industry to provide participants with valuable and relevant information to assist with the planning and strategic decision-making in a changing environment’.

The conference will feature 3 facilitated panel sessions that will broach major issues facing the Victorian alpine industry.

In 2017, the conference will be held 4 – 5 May, in Marysville. The theme is ‘Managing a Changing Landscape’, with a focus on the impacts of climate change on the alpine environment and what this will mean for businesses which are reliant on snow fall.

Full details here.

 

Help save Basin Creek rainforest

The W-Tree community near the Snowy River in East Gippsland need your help to stop logging of the Basin Creek rainforest complex. This spectacular rainforest area is currently under threat from VicForests logging operations.

The Basin Creek Rainforest Complex is a beautiful matrix of pristine rainforested gullies and old-growth forest that forms a crucial wildlife corridor in an area devastated by clear fell logging. This corridor links the Snowy River National Park with forests further to the West.

Please sign the petition to Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio MP calling on her to protect this stunning place from destructive clear fell logging.

Time to make Mt Stirling part of the Alpine Park

With a review of alpine resorts being carried out by the Victorian government, the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) has renewed its campaign to have Mt Stirling incorporated into the Alpine National Park.

There is a small window of time remaining to provide input to the review, supporting the call for the inclusion in the park. The following information from the VNPA explains how to have input into the process.

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Alps blueprint proposes major cull of horses

Recently the Victorian government released a ‘blueprint’ plan for the national parks in the Alps, which aims to guide management over the next 15 years.

The plan identifies eight priorities for urgent action, one of which is feral horse control.

Peter Hunt from The Weekly Times has looked into one aspect of the plan which will cause concern among groups who have campaigned against shooting feral horses. However, the environmental impacts of wild horses are well documented and numbers of these animals needs to be radically reduced.

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Senate inquiry into Tasmanian fires calls for creation of a national remote area firefighting team

The report from the Senate Inquiry into the terrible fires that happened in Tasmania last summer has now been released.

The inquiry looked at ‘responses to, and lessons learnt from, the January and February 2016 bushfires in remote Tasmanian wilderness’. The committee was chaired by Greens Senator Nick McKim.

Probably the key recommendation in the report is the proposal that the state and federal governments should investigate the establishment of a national remote area firefighting team. Coalition committee members dissented, saying informal and formal relationships already exist between the state and federal governments and that the Army is also brought in when needed. However the slow pace at which a number of remote area fires were tackled indicates that there was a shortage of fire fighting resources able to be deployed quickly into remote areas. The devastation of areas such as around Lake McKenzie on the Central Plateau was compounded by the delay in getting fire fighting units into the area.

The Coalition MPs on the committee also disagreed with another call in the inquiry report for Australia to report annually to the UNESCO Wilderness World Heritage committee about the state of conservation within the Tasmanian WWHA.

Other issues raised in the report include the need to ensure adequate funding of research into how climate change will influence fires in the world heritage area. For instance, the committee recommends that the Australian Government recognise the need to enhance protection and conservation efforts in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area by allocating increased funding:

  • to the Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania, for appropriate management activities and resources; and
  • for research projects aimed at providing qualitative and quantitative data specific to climate-related and ecological threats to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (such as dry lightning strike). It appears that the frequency of dry lightning strikes has already increased in recent decades.

The final report is available here.

Legal action planned to protect Strathbogie forests

The Strathbogie Ranges, in Victoria’s north east, contain valuable remnant forests across a range of elevations. Logging in the Ranges has long been opposed by many locals.

The Shepparton News is reporting that locals are now considering a legal challenge to the VicForests logging.

Continue reading “Legal action planned to protect Strathbogie forests”

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