Every time I drive up the hill from Harrietville to Mt Hotham, I feel a strange mix of joy and sadness. Its always good to get back into the mountains. But those burnt out alpine ash forests break my heart.
People will often say ‘fire has always been part of the landscape’. True. But that misses the point that fire intensity and frequency is already increasing as we lurch into the climate change influenced future. In my lifetime it has already transformed many of the landscapes I know and love best. What will the coming decades bring?
In Victoria, the frequency of large fires (greater than 100,000 hectares) has grown significantly over the past century.
- 19th century – 2 mega fires
- first half of 20th Century – 4 mega fires
- 2nd half of 20th century – 7 mega fires
- In the first 15 years of the 21st century – 6 mega fires
This is in spite of massive advances in fire fighting technology.
The Upper Ovens area experienced three major fires in just a decade. This is impacting on the forests, and possibly pushing large areas into a different vegetation pattern. Some scientists have suggested that, without human intervention, the alpine ash forests of this and other valleys around the alps will disappear (human intervention meaning aerial seeding).
It is hard not to see that the landscape is changing before our eyes. Being at any of the alpine resorts like Dinner Plain, Falls Creek and Hotham, which are built into the surrounding forests, you can feel the risk of fire all through summer. People watch the emergency app on their phones and dry lightning storms make you nervous. In winter, snow often comes later (who hasn’t skied through endless drizzle and rain during early July?) and snow depth is in decline (and has been since 1957). Emblematic species like the Mountain Pygmy Possum are already struggling to survive (despite some excellent work by resorts and other land managers).
Sure, ski resorts can focus on ‘green season’ activity to maintain their economic viability, but the feeling of the place is changing. No amount of denial can hide that fact. For my part, I intend to keep working as hard (and as smart) as I can to ensure Victoria does its part in radically reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. We need all hands on deck and the logical places to start are the large carbon emitters (in Victoria and NSW this means the coal fired power stations that produce most of our electricity at present. We need to shut them down and transition to 100% renewables and storage asap). But based on the amount of carbon we have put into the atmosphere over the last two centuries, change in climate, and hence vegetation, will continue. I hope our kids can recognise the world that we grew up in.
February 15, 2018 at 9:27 pm
Depends on whether you think its better to spend a lot of energy and money to try to prevent a coming environmental tipping-point, or the tipping point has already been reached, and no matter what we do won’t make much difference. A lot of us take the second opinion, especially in the face of virtually ubiquitous political and social blindness, and all that can be done is to enjoy what we still have, and prepare the planet for whichever holocaust we will have wrought upon it….
February 15, 2018 at 10:07 pm
All very true. But…our elected representatives do not appear to have any understanding of these issues. Their world is not ours. They seem to think that all that matters is the economy and jobs – all very short term. We need to get people into parliament (state and federal) who have, at least, some respect for science, and preferably some knowledge of the issues. It is a much wider issue than forests, it encompasses the Barrier Reef, plastics in the ocean, and, above all, climate change. It’s really about science, not beliefs, which is why Abbott et al were such a catastrophe for Australia. I take comfort that people like yourself and many of the general population seem to be agreeing that policies must change. We must do all that we can to change them – and quickly!
February 17, 2018 at 9:54 am
Aborigines burnt the mountains every year. Explorers called alpine ash and mountain ash, black gum and blackbutt. Flinders saw evidence of megafires on uninhabited Kangaroo Island. The first mainland megafire was about 1820 in South Gippsland, 30 years after the Yowenjerre were wiped out by smallpox. The first post-European megafire burnt 5 million hectares of Victoria in 1851 only two decades after Aboriginal burning was disrupted. Megafires are a consequence of firestorms in 3 dimensionally continuous fuels. Real data from Western Australia shows that there was a very strong inverse relationship, through sixty years of ‘climate change’, between the area of wildfires compared to the area of prescribed burning, provided that more than 10% of the landscape was treated each year. The ‘scientists’ that are predicting the loss of alpine ash are the ones that are causing it with their stupid advice. Read Firestick Ecology!
[note from Cam. Yes, traditional owners managed the high country. However, the scale (% of land burned per year) appears to have been quite low and according to work done by Parks Vic, concentrated on creating access tracks up the valley systems (with associated development of open areas and green pick to assist in attracting food species) and the higher mountain country, rather than broad scale fuel reduction in the montane forests that fill much of the terrain between river bottom and mountain tops]
February 18, 2018 at 4:24 pm
Parks Victoria want to rewrite history to justify their neglect and mismanagement. Here’s a quote from Surveyor Townsend who observed Aboriginal management of the high country:
The blacks had visited the Snowy Mountains, a short time previously to us, for the purpose of getting “Bogongs,” … they light large fires, and the consequence was, the country throughout the whole survey was burnt, leaving my bullocks destitute of food. During the time I was on the range the lower parts of the country were burning, and I was prevented, in almost every instance, from getting angles on any distant points, by the dense masses of smoke obscuring the horizon in all directions.
How do you think all the ash trees got their black butts?
[From Cam. Cynicism about government bodies is de rigueur now days, so you may as well join in. Its like those dastardly climate scientists, only in it for their own gain (etc etc). But that research was based on involvement of traditional owners. Of course there were fires in the high country pre invasion, so some forests would have fire scars on the trunks, as some do now].
February 18, 2018 at 5:05 pm
There weren’t any traditional owners. Nobody lived there. The high country was shared amongst people from all around, and they burnt it every year. Fire ran up the rough bark and reduced the spotting potential in extreme weather conditions. Scarring was extremely rare, only occurring in centennial scale droughts. (See Burrows on Jarrah). Under current mismanagement with long intervals between fires every prescribed burn scars trees, burns down old scarred trees and regenerates heaps more fuel. All governments and academic institutions in Australia comprise people with wilderness between the ears. Fairdinkum blackfellas with traditional knowledge like Victor Steffensen are reacquanting people all over Australia with it. The people you’re talking about haven’t got a clue. The mountain cattlemen carried on the blackfellas traditions in the high country and will work with Steffensen to bring it back. Victor was sickened when he saw the results of Parks Vic neglect and mismanagement.
[Lots of big claims there, Vic. But just to respond to one.
Your claim that ‘There weren’t any traditional owners. Nobody lived there’ is patently ridiculous. Check with any of the TO groups that have Native Title agreements or simply have long term connection to the high country. Archaeological surveys show that people lived in sections of the high country (ie snow gum country) for up to 9 months of the year. We have moved far beyond the time of Terra Nullius.]
February 18, 2018 at 6:30 pm
People lived in snow gum country all year round. it grows all over the tablelands and down to 300m in frost hollows in the Bega Valley. They weren’t silly enough to try and hibernate in snow and ice where there was nothing to eat. I realise terra nullius is bs but the high country was shared seasonally. wilderness nuts including govt and academia are believers in terra nullius. who’s claims are patently ridiculous?
February 18, 2018 at 6:37 pm
People were living above 1400m in VIC for 9 months of the year in places like the ridgeline from Hotham towards Cobungra.
February 18, 2018 at 7:12 pm
they weren’t stupid. there was nothing there for them. only stupid people that want to revise history to suit their illogical theories would make such a ridiculous claim.
February 18, 2018 at 7:17 pm
The weather would have been lovely up there for 9 months of the year. And there were wetlands on some of the plains on that ridgeline – lots of plants and animals to eat. According to archaeological surveys there was a wide range of foods eaten up there. They had possum skin cloaks and could easily survive there until autumn.
February 18, 2018 at 8:00 pm
you’re living in fantasyland. they weren’t. make yourself a possum cloak and show us how it’s done. i’d be very interested to see the data from these archaeological surveys. obviously the foodstuffs weren’t preserved in permafrost because you tell us it was such a lovely climate. these samples of a wide range of utilised foods must be unique in the world. how come nobody else has heard of em?
February 18, 2018 at 8:27 pm
Obviously we don’t have permafrost here. But carbon dating of fires, middens, etc is common practise. A lot of the work was done after the 2003 fires exposed hundreds of new sites in the VIC Alps. Russell Mullet, a Gunnai/ Kurnai man, did years of work up around Mount Hotham, doing research into traditional life up in the mountains. He suggests that people lived at altitude in places like Long Plain where there was sufficient resources (like a swampy area to provide snakes, eggs and tuberous plants to supplement what could be hunted in the forests).
February 18, 2018 at 9:03 pm
There aren’t any middens up there, and your claims about archaeological evidence of diet are nonsense. The 2003 fires exposed long unburnt country with heavy fuels to massive erosion. They had to build a new filtration plant and raise the wall of Cotter Dam to save Canberra’s water supply. nothing to do with climate change. just lack of sensible burning. Russell knows, Mountain Cattlemen know, everyone that makes a living in the bush knows. You and your green friends are destroying our environment, our society and our economy.
February 18, 2018 at 9:26 pm
‘Nothing to do with climate change’. Good to get to that (inevitable) point. Well its been lovely having a chat.
February 18, 2018 at 9:41 pm
yep. snatch back your marbles and run home to mum
February 18, 2018 at 9:46 pm
Oh touché sir. very clever end to the conversation.