Alpine Ash is a quintessential tree of the higher foothill country of the Australian Alps. It is facing an existential threat from fire. It has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.
Snow gums are the classic alpine tree of the mainland, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. But wildfire has also been devastating large swathes of snow gum habitat, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7 and 2013. Much of Kosciuszko National Park was burnt in 2003. South Eastern Australia suffered from a drought that lasted more than a decade and this greatly increased the severity of the fires that have occurred since the turn of the 21st century. The result of the fires is that often the parent tree has been killed back to ground level, with subsequent re-shooting of leaves from lignotuber buds under the bark. In this way, individual trees can exist through various ‘lives’, often surviving multiple fires.
The Victorian government is now so concerned about the threat of fire on Alpine Ash communities that it has launched a seeding program to help the species survive.
As yet the government does not see the need to intervene in the same way with Snow Gums.
In my travels in the high country, I am finding more patches of Snow Gum forests that appear to have been converted by fire into something else: eg, scrubby or grassy dominated ecosystems. Some of these are documented below.
This is a call for you to contribute examples where snow gums are not recovering from fire, or are very badly impacted by fire. Ie, there are no, or very limited numbers of, seedlings or new stems growing from the lignotuber. While the bark on the stems of snow gums is particularly thin, meaning their trunks and branches are frequently killed outright by fire, snow gums have a built-in insurance mechanism that ensures persistence – a large swelling at their base, known as a ‘lignotuber’. Regrowth from the lignotuber is a common way of a forest regrowing after fire.
This information will be compiled and used to demonstrate the scale of the problem and will be delivered to the Victorian government.
Please feel free to email me details on loss of Snow Gums. Please include:
- Specific details on where the area is located and how large the affected area is
- Any details on what is going on (eg grass or wattles are taking over, new seedlings have been killed by fire, etc)
- please feel free to add GPS co-ordinates a ‘mud map’, or any other information you feel is relevant.
Please send to email@example.com
With photos would be great.
The forest above, located off the Dargo High Plains road, has been burnt several times and exhibits a profound loss of Snow Gum trees. It is now dominated by low shrubs and grasses.
This slope pictured above, just south of JB Plain in the Alpine National Park was burnt in 2019/20. The fire burnt hot up a hill and is now dominated by grass. Some understory species are returning, however there is no obvious seedling or lignotuber growth by Snow Gums.