It was probably a year ago that I saw this photo in Powder magazine. It broke my heart to think that an image of a skier making lines through burnt forest is now just a regular thing in the times that we live in.
The other day I was out pottering around, aiming to ski to Mt Tabletop near Mt Hotham, taking advantage of the excellent snow base at present. I skied out along JB Plain and cut into the trees to the edge of the 2020 fire, then decided to follow the open terrain down on the south side of the escarpment, onto a steepening slope that ended where the Alpine Ash started to dominate. Its early August but it felt like spring: forgiving granular corn, south facing slopes, mellow turns. Doing wide loops through the dead trees, looking out to the Dargo High Plains, I felt at home in these mountains that I love. This used to be thick regrowth forest and you never would have thought of skiing here. But now its open, and with a good cover, its enjoyable moderate terrain. The Ash are dead, as are a lot of the Snow Gums.
I skinned back up, feeling happy and mournful in equal measure. As I get older, the trees get younger. I looked out at the hills where I could see localised loss of Snow Gums: dead zones of grass, temporarily hidden by the snow. The dead trunks are already turning that ghostly grey.
I climbed into that strange ‘broccoli and stump’ terrain that marks the forests that have been burnt in the last 20 years – vigorous regrowth among the sparse dead trees. You see a lot of it nowadays. Then, I followed a long meadow up into old, open Snow Gum, then to a hill top for views of Hotham and Mt Loch. There is still hope. There are still old trees and (sometimes) deep snow. Its not too late, but we need to get on with the business at hand.
That’s why I wrote this report: its my love song to the mountains that feed my spirit.
An Icon at Risk, Current and Emerging threats to the Victorian High Country, was produced by Friends of the Earth and highlights the many risks faced by the Alps, including the potential loss of the Snow Gum forests
You can read the report here.
You can find out more, get ideas on action and read the recommendations here.
There is an ABC story on our report here.
Please send a quick email to the Environment Minister urging her to adopt the recommendations of our report.
(*) The Pyrocene is being used as a term to describe the era we live in – characterised by humans’ use of fire, especially the way that the burning of fossil fuels is impacting Earth. The 21st century is a different world to the one our parents knew. For those of us who love the mountains, there is an urgent need to act, so the generations that come after us will inherit a world with old trees, deep snow, and rich biodiversity. The UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, recently warned that the world is at a “climate crossroads” and decisions taken this year would determine whether it will be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era by the end of the century.
What we do now will influence the type of planet we leave for future generations. Here are some reflections on ‘where to’ for the future:
We are privileged in Victoria to have access to wonderful outdoor environments like the High Country and alpine regions of the State. It is our responsibility to be custodians of these environments and we have the knowledge and evidence necessary to protect them from threats posed by climate, fire, development and invasive species. As a proud Australian and outdoor recreation enthusiast, I want to ensure future generations can enjoy these areas as I have. Such connections to country are good for the mind, body and soul. They are priceless.
- Sandra Bucovaz, outdoor recreation enthusiast/ BSAR member/ ski patroller
One of the oldest tenets of geography is the concept of place. Place has numerous definitions, none more important than a ‘sense of place’, which is the emotions someone attaches to an area based on their experiences and feeling. Place attachment is the emotional bond between person and place, and is a main concept in environmental psychology.
The mountains give me my sense of place, they are my work place, my place of community, my place of play and my place of solace. They are my everything.
I fear for the increasing impacts on mountain environment and the ecosystems it nurtures, but I also hold hope that as custodians of our special places, we can make a significant difference if we act now.
- Kelly van den Berg, Backcountry guide, Splitboarder and mountain enthusiast
Our children learned to ski in the beautiful snow gum forests of Lake Mountain. We would visit and ski, up to a dozen weekends each winter. But we effectively stopped going there after fire went through. It was too heartbreaking to see what had become of this beautiful place.
Thirty years ago, it was common to have over half a metre of snow on the ground for most of the winter. No longer. In some recent winters, there have hardly been two snowflakes to rub together.
- Charles Street
‘We can naturally and safely cool this planet within years. Everywhere. We’ve got a planet to save.’
When I think of the future of the Alps I feel hopeful. When we understand how Nature used her processes to create exquisite bio-systems such as alpine wetlands in the Australian Alps, we can learn from that to reapply and help her regenerate. As part of NGO Regenerate Earth, Walter Jehne and I have created two short films which offer insights into how powerful Nature’s processes can be when we give her a chance, to rehydrate and regenerate landscapes to restore healthy soils, hydrology, naturally cooling the climate and securing our future. We can and we must.
- Stephen Curtain, skier and film maker
Grief is a form of love. My love for what I do defines who I am. This love hurts. And this love holds hands tightly with grief. I am grieving a changing planet. I am grieving the species this planet has lost, and the species fighting to hang on.
I think the world around me is calling out for help. If I can pause long enough to sit with my grief, and listen to that call, I can get back up, shoulder my burdens and think about the next step.
- Ellis Juhlin, graduate student in ecology
I fell for snow before I even met it, beguiled by childhood fairy tales of wardrobes that opened on to sparkly, magical Narnia, of hobbits braving treacherous mountain peaks. In adulthood, infatuation made way for full blown passion when I discovered Kunama Namadji: Australia’s Snowy Mountains. Unique, precious, they are every bit as magical and irreplaceable as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; an ecosystem tens of thousands of years old, with creatures as fantastical as in any fairytale: wombats in their snow caves, pygmy possums snuggled under snow doonas, twisted snow gums that glow under ice-covered leaf chandeliers.
I’m not alone. The people who love our Australian snow – who feel its call – base their lives, their communities, their income, their joy, their identities around it. They would be bereft to consider this incomparable place could die. As was I, after spending a year deep-dive researching what it going to happen to Australia’s snows if we don’t limit warming to 1.5 degrees and turn this global warming catastrophe around.
The dying snowgums are to our snow-lands as the bleaching corals are to the Barrier Reef. A plea from the emergency ward, a desperate call to save this place before it is too late.
I cannot bear to contemplate what will happen if we ignore this call.
– Dr Jonica Newby, science reporter, author of Beyond Climate Grief: a journey of love, snow, fire and an enchanted beer can