We know how devastating last summer’s fires were on local economies across the country. The ecological impact becomes ever more clearly understood, although some on ground research has been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2020, the Federal Environment Department released an initial list of threatened ecological communities which have more than 10% of their estimated distribution in areas affected by bushfires in southern and eastern Australia between 1 July 2019 and 11 February 2020. What are the known impacts in mountain environments?
The government report says:
“Preliminary results indicate that of the 84 nationally listed threatened ecological communities:
- Four have more than 50% of their estimated distribution within the fire extent
- Three have more than 30%, but less than 50%, of their estimated distribution within the fire extent
- Thirteen have more than 10%, but less than 30%, of their estimated distribution within the fire extent.
- Another seventeen have some of their estimated distribution within the fire extent.
Whilst better mapping and expert input is gathered, the starting list of threatened ecological communities that may be most adversely impacted by the 2019-20 fires include those that typically experience infrequent fire, or no fire at all, because these ecosystems are likely to be poorly adapted to fire. These include peatlands, rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests”.
The fire-affected ecological communities of greatest initial concern and highest priority for detailed impact assessment in the mountain areas of SE Australia, include the:
- Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens (in ACT, NSW and Victoria). It is estimated that 10 – 30% of this vegetation community across the country was burnt. The community is already listed as Endangered under the federal government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Natural temperate grasslands of the South East Highlands in the ACT and NSW (eg as found on the tablelands south of Canberra), which are already listed as Critically Endangered under the EPBC had 10 – 30% of the community burnt.
In addition, some ecological communities not currently listed under national environmental law may have been ‘sufficiently impacted by fires that they are now more threatened and may require listing for national protection’, such as rainforests and wet forests in south-eastern NSW and East Gippsland.
Individual species in mountain and foothill areas likely to be impacted (This is not a complete list):
- Mountain Trachymene (more than 80% of habitat burnt, Endangered)
- Bredbo Gentian (more than 80% of habitat burnt, already Critically Endangered)
- Snowy River Westringia (80%, Vulnerable)
- Stuttering Frog (50 – 80%, Vulnerable)
- Long Footed Potoroo (50 – 80%, Endangered)
- Alpine Tree Frog (30 – 50%, Vulnerable)
- The Monaro Golden Daisy (once extensively distributed across the Monaro Tablelands and into the montane areas of the Snowy Mountains. 30 – 50%, Vulnerable)
- The Buchan Blue Wattle (It grows along the Buchan R. valley between Murrindal and Buchan. 10 – 30%, Vulnerable)
- Mountain Pygmy Possum (10 – 30%, Endangered)
- Alpine She-oak Skink (The species is endemic to the Australian Alps. 10 – 30%, Endangered)
- Spot-Tailed Quoll (10 – 30%, Endangered)
- Narrow-Leaf Bent Grass (endemic to alpine Victoria, where it is known from only two locations near Suggan Buggan in far eastern Victoria. 10 – 30%, Vulnerable)
- Southern Corroboree Frog (10 – 30%, Critically Endangered)
- Alpine Stonefly (10 – 30%, Endangered)
Female Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina), Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph by David Hunter.