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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Snowy Mountains

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

In mid December, large fires started in East Gippsland. 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”

Snowy 2.0 will be ‘Environmental Vandalism’

The NSW government has now released the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Snowy 2.0 hydro project.

At the core of the Snowy Hydro 2.0 expansion will be the establishment of a new underground tunnel linking the Tantangara and Talbingo reservoirs and the commissioning of a new underground power station that will operate as Australia’s largest pumped hydro energy storage system.

The main works for the Snowy 2.0 project will include the removal of an estimated 9 million cubic meters of excavated rock. The federal government owned Snowy Hydro has proposed that more than half of this excavated material be relocated within either the Talbingo or Tantangara reservoirs, with the remaining material used to establish permanent structures, or for land forming.

While the prospect of a renewed Snowy Hydro scheme, operating as the ‘battery’ for the eastern seaboard, has appeal from a climate angle, it has not – until now – been clear what the physical footprint of the project might be. The EIS outlines the likely direct impacts of the works that would be required under the scheme. The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) says that the EIS ‘proposes a completely unacceptable level of damage to Kosciusko National Park’.

Continue reading “Snowy 2.0 will be ‘Environmental Vandalism’”

Australia’s largest avalanche on record?

Mountain Sports Collective (MSC) is reporting a large avalanche on the Etheridge Ridge in the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains and other avalanche activity in the area, including Leatherbarrell Creek. A person was caught in the main slide and partially buried, but was uninjured. This highlights the need to be very mindful of conditions in the backcountry at present.

Continue reading “Australia’s largest avalanche on record?”

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.

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Snow! Be careful out there.

It’s being billed as the best single snow event of the winter. Regardless of the title or hype, its certainly a fantastic dump across all the mountains of the mainland and Tasmania.

But it has also led to serious avalanche potential. Here is a summary of the current (AUG 9) Mountain Sports Collective backcountry conditions bulletin.

Continue reading “Snow! Be careful out there.”

Lets Split trip to Dead Horse Gap

Lets Split is a volunteer based initiative, designed to expand and strengthen the Australian Splitboard community.  We are a group of experienced SplitBoarders, who invite others to join us touring in the backcountry – hoping that the important skills needed for safe backcountry travel can pass into the younger generation of riders who are perhaps less experienced than us.

Here is a report from Lets Split founder Amine Yasmine on their recent trip to Dead Horse Gap in the Snowy Mountains.

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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”

Sydney UNDERFROG documentary screening

NSW Nordic Ski Club and Reclaim Kosci are co-hosting a screening of “Underfrog” on Wednesday July 24. The night will be used to increase raise awareness of the feral horse issue in the Snowy Mountains and raise funds for Reclaim Kosci to continue their work. Everyone is welcome. Doors open at 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start. Donations are optional. The film is suitable for all ages.

Continue reading “Sydney UNDERFROG documentary screening”

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