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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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snow gums

Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem

The state government logging agency, VicForests, intends to log a total of 11 “coupes”, or sections, of mature forest, dominated by Alpine Ash, in the headwaters of the Little Dargo River, an area of state forest that lies right next to the Alpine National Park. These coupes are located in a series of clusters, where separate sections of bush will be harvested, creating a large zone of cleared land over time. One coupe has already been logged. The remaining coupes have not yet been scheduled for harvesting, and are yet to be surveyed. There is still time to stop this ecological disaster – if we act now.

The Little Dargo is roughly 15 kilometres south of the Mt Hotham ski resort in the mountains of north eastern Victoria. Background on the logging can be found here.

Continue reading “Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem”

Are we losing the Snow Gum?

Today is National Eucalypt Day. #NationalEucalyptDay.

There are more than 700 species of this tree, which are found in, and often dominate, most ecosystems across the continent. Most species of Eucalyptus are native to Australia. Many of them are under threat, from over clearing, over burning and climate change. One of those at risk is the Snow Gum, the ubiquitous tree of the mountains in the south east corner of the country.

Continue reading “Are we losing the Snow Gum?”

Tracking Snow Gum decline

Alpine Ash is a quintessential tree of the higher foothill country of the Australian Alps. It is facing an existential threat from fire. It has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

Snow gums are the classic alpine tree of the mainland, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. But wildfire has also been devastating large swathes of snow gum habitat, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7 and 2013. Much of Kosciuszko National Park was burnt in 2003. South Eastern Australia suffered from a drought that lasted more than a decade and this greatly increased the severity of the fires that have occurred since the turn of the 21st century. The result of the fires is that often the parent tree has been killed back to ground level, with subsequent re-shooting of leaves from lignotuber buds under the bark. In this way, individual trees can exist through various ‘lives’, often surviving multiple fires.

The Victorian government is now so concerned about the threat of fire on Alpine Ash communities that it has launched a seeding program to help the species survive.

As yet the government does not see the need to intervene in the same way with Snow Gums.

Continue reading “Tracking Snow Gum decline”

Ghost Forests of the High Country

Over 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has been burned at least once since 2003. Some areas have been burnt multiple times, and this is impacting on the ability of these forests to recover. Like other Eucalypts, Snow Gums are fire adapted and can recover via new seedlings or regrowth from the base of the tree. However, repeated fires within a short period of time can kill the parent forest and destroy seedlings.

Continue reading “Ghost Forests of the High Country”

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”

Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires

The Bushfire Recovery Project, led by five scientists, is tracking forest regrowth in NSW and Victoria after last summer’s fires, using data gathered by citizen scientists.

Their report has found that while low elevation forests on the NSW south coast appear to be recovering well, forests in some subalpine areas ‘near Mount Kosciuszko and in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are struggling to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires’.

This is consistent with everything we already know about the impact of climate driven fire seasons on the higher elevation Alpine Ash forests and Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires”

A ‘mountain’ of loss – Snow Gum dieback in Victoria

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. It is understood that climate change is helping the spread of dieback because of background warming.

Now spread of dieback is being seen more frequently in the mountain forests of Victoria. Gillian Anderson reports back on some recent observations of snow gum dieback on the Bogong High Plains.

Continue reading “A ‘mountain’ of loss – Snow Gum dieback in Victoria”

Please track and report Snow Gum dieback

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.

The SOS Snowgum program is asking people to log instances of dieback in mountain areas.

Continue reading “Please track and report Snow Gum dieback”

Public Seminar – Snow-gum dieback and forest decline

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

On December 10, Dr Matthew Brookhouse, Project leader of the SOSnowgum program, will deliver a public online seminar on snow-gum dieback. The seminar will focus on recognition of dieback, the research being done into dieback, and a citizen-science program that is providing information on the spread of dieback.

Continue reading “Public Seminar – Snow-gum dieback and forest decline”

Winter of The Little Things

I don’t know about you, but I’m a winter person. I daydream about snow through summer, sneak off to the mountains in autumn to get that sense of oncoming winter, and once the snow arrives, I’m there. My New Year’s Eve is the end of the ski season. Having New Years in the middle of endless summer heat never made sense to me, but the end of the season, when thousands start to head off the mountains and quiet returns, really marks the end of the year for me.

Like other snow addicts I anxiously check the season outlook. Those big falls in May and early June gave me hope for a good season in 2020, in spite of the fact that we just had two great winters and three in a row was going to be pushing our luck. 

Then came lockdown 1 and 2, the closure of the VIC resorts, and a pretty ‘uninspiring’ winter.

Continue reading “Winter of The Little Things”

Research into Snow Gum dieback continues

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 (reports here). This has been linked to climate change because of warmer temperatures in alpine areas.

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.

This is an update on the research into the impacts of dieback in these areas.

Continue reading “Research into Snow Gum dieback continues”

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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