Wow. What a year. Crazy summer fires. Covid lockdowns. Terrible winter snow pack, but also some incredible snow storms. Lots of fighting over our mountains, including the endless culture war argument about horses. Kind of glad it’s almost at an end.

We all know the story: a dry winter and spring led to a horror summer, with massive fires across the eastern Victorian high countrySnowy Mountains and Brindabellas. Luckily Tasmania got off easy last summer.

Then the lockdown(s), which hit mountain and valley towns in Victoria especially hard, isolated Tasmania, and closed the NSW/ Victorian border. The economic impacts of these events will last for a long time.

And then there were the ongoing arguments about how to treat our mountains. It felt like issues were widespread this year. Here’s a few of them:

The Victorian government is allowing widespread ‘salvage’ logging of fire affected mountain forests, mostly alpine ash, in the far east and mountainous east of the state, including unburnt pockets of forest. Petition available here or check the GECO website for updates.

The feral horse issue drags on, with court cases against plans by Parks Victoria to reduce horse numbers in the Alpine National Park, and an ongoing culture war argument in NSW about feral horse numbers. While the current NSW government has continually failed to act to protect the NSW High Country, by refusing to support horse removal programs, things are starting to change. In a surprise move, the NSW environment minister, Matt Kean, announced that ‘about’ 4,000 feral horses will be removed from Kosciuszko national park as ‘part of an emergency response to protect the alpine ecosystem after large areas were devastated by bushfires’. The federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has also announced that intervention is needed to reduce feral horse numbers in the Snowy Mountains. She said that the horses are holding back the recovery of ecosystems and vital waterways in the bushfire-ravaged Alpine region. Victoria and the ACT already have a common sense approach, with plans to reduce horse numbers in their mountain parks.

Plans for helicopter based tourism at Malbena Island on the Central plateau in Tasmania continue to move forward despite sustained community opposition and legal challenges.

And a developer continues to push plans to build a cable car up the face of kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, above Hobart.

In Victoria, the plan to allow commercial development and a campsite on Mt Feathertop as part an upgrade of the Falls to Hotham Crossing has generated significant opposition.

There are plans to allow gold exploration in the upper Ovens Valley in Victoria (local action group available here).

Fire was, of course, a major focus for mountain communities throughout the year as the conversation raged about how to manage fire risk in remote and mountainous areas.

The hand of climate change was clear in last summer’s fires.

After last summer’s fires, there were government reviews in Victoria, New South Wales and a Royal Commission at the federal level. One key recommendation of the Royal Commission was the call to establish a publicly owned air fleet (at present most of the planes and helicopters used in firefighting are hired either locally or from overseas. The federal government refused to support the idea, but after a lot of pressure, they have shifted their position. You can sign a letter calling for the government to get on with establishing a fleet here.

Tasmania established a volunteer remote area firefighting team, and hopefully Victoria is getting closer as well.

As we move into a new summer, the land is much greener than this time last year. Fingers crossed for a mild season. There are covid outbreaks in Sydney and a renewed chance that the NSW/ Victorian border will close again. These are, indeed ‘interesting’ days. Let’s make the best of them. Stick together, follow the science, be kind. And get oout and enjoy our wonderful mountain environments.

Wishing you all the best for a great summer solstice/ Christmas/ new years.