Over 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has been burned at least once since 2003. Some areas have been burnt multiple times, and this is impacting on the ability of these forests to recover. Like other Eucalypts, Snow Gums are fire adapted and can recover via new seedlings or regrowth from the base of the tree. However, repeated fires within a short period of time can kill the parent forest and destroy seedlings.
Even areas that have been subjected to hot and very destructive wildfire, such as on the Lake Mountain plateau during the 2009 Black Saturday fires, can be expected to recover – provided we can keep fires out of these systems. However, this will take time. For instance researchers suggest it will take the forests at Lake Mountain at least 70 years to return to pre-fire structure. No specific management needs to be undertaken to aid this process beyond excluding fires.
However, with longer and more intense fire seasons, we are seeing more and more areas of Snow Gum pushed beyond the ability of the forests to recover. Some areas in the Victorian high country appear to be converting to open landscapes of grass and scrub, with little to no recolonisation of Snow Gums.
Are these ‘ghost forests’ our future?
Alpine Ash are also being terribly impacted by bushfires. Faced with the prospect of ecological collapse of this vegetation community, especially in eastern Victoria, the state government has decided it needs to intervene to keep these vegetation communities viable. There is a well established program to re seed burnt Alpine Ash forests. At what point do we decide we need to intervene at the same scale to see the continued survival of Snow Gum woodlands?
Check here for a summary of the implications of longer fire seasons on Snow Gum forests and how we need to respond.