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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

An Icon at Risk: current and emerging threats to the Victorian Alps

Snow Gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are the classic alpine tree of the High Country, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. Anyone who has visited the Australian High Country will know – and probably love – these trees.

In recent decades, wildfire has been devastating huge areas of the Snow Gum forests, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7, 2013 and 2019/20. More than 90% of Snow Gum habitat has been burnt at least once in the last 20 years.

The species can survive fire. However, climate change driven fire seasons are leading to more frequent fire, which is causing more death of trees and changes to forest structure. In some instances, localised collapse of Snow Gum woodlands is now being observed. As climate scientist Michael Mann describes it, we are now seeing climate change play out in real time.

We must ask whether we are now seeing the start of the collapse of Snow Gum woodlands, one of Victoria’s iconic vegetation communities.

Continue reading “An Icon at Risk: current and emerging threats to the Victorian Alps”
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Mountain Journal print edition available

Mountain Journal started back in the summer of 2010. Inspired by great magazines like Mountain Gazette, the plan had always been to produce a print version. But I never got around to it – until now!

The first print edition is hot off the press, and will be (covid lockdowns permitting) surfacing in cafes, mountain huts and public spaces across the Alps soon.

The aim is to produce an Annual, taking content from the website, including some new content, and covering the key mountain/ environment issues of the year.

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Future fire regimes threaten Alpine Ash

Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) is the classic tree of the sub alpine forests and tends to be replaced by Snow Gum woodlands at higher elevations. In Victoria it is also known as Woolybutt. It only exists in south eastern Australia (there is also a sub species in Tasmania). In Victoria, it occurs at altitudes between 900 and 1,500 metres above sea level.

It has had 84% of it’s range in Victoria burnt since 2002. Large fires occurred in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, in 2006/2007 in the south. And during 2019/20, around 83,000 hectares of Ash forest was burnt, with 17,800 hectares of this being reproductively immature ash forest that burned at high severity.

We know that large old trees in ecosystems in Victoria which are dominated by Alpine Ash are in ‘rapid decline’. The problem is that Alpine Ash need around 20 years to reach reproductive maturity, so if fires happen more frequently than this, local extinction is possible because there is no seed stock to create a new forest.

New research shows us, yet again, that increased fire regimes threaten this vegetation community. Future fire regimes increase risks to obligate-seeder forests by Sarah C McColl-Gausden, Lauren T Bennett, Dan A Ababei, Hamish G Clarke, and Trent D Penman, and published on 23 September 2021 describes the impacts of fire on Alpine Ash.

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Major cost blow out in Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme

The proposal to build Snowy Hydro 2.0 to strengthen capacity for energy storage seemed like a good idea at first. But as the details of the project emerged, especially the likely direct physical footprint of the project, more and more people and groups started to oppose it. (Background stories on the issue are available here).

After the release of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the NSW National Parks Association said that the plan ‘proposes a completely unacceptable level of damage to Kosciusko National Park’.

However the federal government continues to pursue the proposal. The project received all approvals and is now being constructed.

Now it has emerged that there has been a significant cost blow out in the project, related to one of the major transmission links that is key to deliver its storage services to the rest of the grid.

A new report suggests different that different grid routes could be considered to either save costs, or increase benefits, including a new connection point that will reduce the environment impact on the national park.

Continue reading “Major cost blow out in Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme”

Big win for campaign against Lake Malbena ‘helicopter tourism’ proposal

In big news, the campaign against the proposal for a controversial ‘helicopter tourism’ development in a remote part of lutruwita/ Tasmania received a significant boost today.

The Wilderness Society, supported by the Environment Defenders Office, has won an appeal against the proposal.

The proposal will now return to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal (RMPAT), who will be asked to reassess it and take into consideration its impact on wilderness world heritage values.

For background on this proposal, please check here.

IMAGE: Dan Broun.

A cable car to Dove Lake?

The following story comes from the Tasmanian National Parks Association (TNPA).

‘Everybody had thought that the most preposterous aspect of the 2016 Cradle Mountain Master Plan – the cableway from the visitor centre to Dove Lake – had long been forgotten. Unfortunately the nightmare of another major intrusion into the naturalness of Cradle Valley is turning into reality with the Coordinator General recently announcing it to the annual conference of the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania as a fait accompli.

Continue reading “A cable car to Dove Lake?”

Pack rafting the Central Plateau

Pack rafting is the sport of hiking and rafting using a portable raft carried on one’s back. Pack rafts are designed to be light enough to be carried long distances. It is a relatively obscure recreation here in Australia, although growing in popularity.

Combining pack rafting and paragliding on the Central Plateau in lutruwita/ Tasmania is probably even more obscure. But it makes for a good adventure.

Jason MacLeod reports on a recent walking/ pack rafting/ paragliding adventure intended to mark his 50thbirthday.

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National Threatened Species Day 2021

Every year on September 7, National Threatened Species Day is commemorated across Australia to raise awareness of plants and animals at risk of extinction.

There are currently 457 species of fauna and 1348 species of flora listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered under Australia’s Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Many of these are found nowhere else in the world.

This is a summary of some of the threats facing mountain species.

Continue reading “National Threatened Species Day 2021”

Feasibility study into Tyndall Range walk released

In 2019, the Tasmanian premier, Will Hodgman, announced that ‘Tasmania’s wild West Coast’ had been chosen as the preferred location for the state’s next ‘Iconic Walk’.

The area selected is the remote Tyndall Range. This ‘iconic walk’ will be similar to the Overland and Three Capes Tracks, where private hut networks have been built and tours are run by commercial operators.

The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (P&WS) has announced that the ‘findings of a feasibility study into a new overnight experience in the Tyndall Range on Tasmania’s west coast ‘proves the proposal is feasible and will deliver a new and iconic multi-day walking experience’.

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VIC backcountry festival 2021 online program

Covid restrictions have forced the organisers of the Victorian Backcountry Festival to cancel the 2021 event. Since we can’t get to meet on-mountain for the festival this year, the organising team has pulled together an ‘on-demand’ pack of films and talks for your viewing pleasure over this weekend (September 4 and 5).

The content available from tonight at https://www.backcountry-festival.com/festival-program/

Continue reading “VIC backcountry festival 2021 online program”

Ecological recovery in Namadgi National Park

In January and February 2020, the Orroral Valley Fire burnt more than 80% of Namadgi National Park in the ACT, leaving large areas blackened and apparently lifeless.

Monitoring the recovery of Namadgi National Park from the Orroral Valley fire has occurred since the fire. This is managed by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate within the Department of Environment, Heritage and Water. They have just released a great visual report on the recovery of animals and vegetation communities in the park. It is mostly good news.

The report is available here.

Some highlights from the report:

Many Candle Bark forests and Snow Gums are recovering quite well.

The rate of recovery appears to be strongly affected by moisture availability.

Wetter sites, such as Snow Gum woodland near Mt Franklin Road, are recovering faster. Snow Gums on drier and rockier sites are demonstrating less recovery.

One exception to the general pattern of good recovery is Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis), which is killed by intense fire and must regenerate from seed.

It is uncertain how well Alpine Ash will recover after two intense fires only 18 years apart; Conservation Research ecologists are currently assessing the degree of fire impact and the extent of recovery in Namadgi’s Alpine Ash forests.

Fortunately, some important stands of Alpine Ash were not affected by the Orroral Valley fire. A total of 2,415 ha, or 33% of the Alpine Ash forest in Namadgi, did not burn in 2020.

Some species can benefit from burning.

By killing shrubs, removing leaf litter and creating areas of bare ground, the fire resulted in ideal conditions for the germination of short-lived herbs and grasses.

Billy buttons (Craspedia sp.) covered the burnt slopes of Mt Gingera in November. Later they faded and set seed, to be replaced by other brightly-coloured species. By February, bluebells and paper daisies (Xerochrysum spp.) were the dominant flowers.

We may not see another flowering event like this for years or decades.

How are fauna populations recovering?

Although the fire took a heavy toll on animals, many survived, either in unburnt or lightly-burnt patches or by taking shelter beneath the ground.

The first teams onto the fire ground found a surprising number of birds (click unmute background audio to listen), mammals, invertebrates, frogs and reptiles,

Preliminary results are encouraging. The burnt areas of Namadgi still ring with an impressive array of singing birds.

VIC backcountry festival cancelled – here’s to 2022!

With the announcement from the Victorian government that the current lockdown will be extended beyond thursday September 2, the organising committee have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2021 Backcountry Festival at Mount Hotham. Given the extended COVID-19 restrictions, we have no option but to cancel.

We have set the dates for next year – September 2, 3 and 4, back at Mt Hotham.

We are, of course, deeply disappointed to have to make this decision. A huge amount of effort goes into planning events like this and it has been especially hard with a constantly changing situation with lockdowns. Many businesses and individuals have come on board to back the event and we thank the Mt Hotham community for the support and good will they have offered the festival.

Continue reading “VIC backcountry festival cancelled – here’s to 2022!”

Bushfire review is a chance to protect Alpine Ash forests

In March 2020, just a few months after the devastating 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires, state and federal governments rolled over the controversial Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) which give logging an exemption from federal environment laws.

A new clause has been introduced where a significant event (like the 2019/2020 bushfires) can trigger a Major Event Review (MER).

The review was announced last year, but since then logging in critical habitat for threatened species has continued, and there have been no changes to logging schedules. The review is now open to public consultation and submissions will be accepted until 31 August 2021.

You can find out more about this review here.

Continue reading “Bushfire review is a chance to protect Alpine Ash forests”

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