As we waited for the snow to arrive last week, it seemed like the right time for the annual pilgrimage to Mt Wills. I have often written about what a special mountain it is, tucked away behind the eastern fall of the Bogong High Plains and Mt Bogong (named Warkwoolowler in the Waywurru and Dhudhuroa languages). I love that strange hut on the little summit plateau, the grassy meadows with old snow gums scattered everywhere, the endless rock outcrops and rocky escarpment on the east side.
Mt Wills is a classic ‘island in the sky’ of isolated snow gum woodland. While it is connected by a long and high ridge back to Bogong, mostly the land falls away to deep river valleys and forests initially dominated by Alpine Ash. It feels like a small sub alpine sea poking out into the upland valleys of the eastern Alps. I love the silence and perspective back to other mountains. But what really draws me back year after year are the ancient snow gums.
The summit plateau is dotted with ancient, well spaced elder trees, mostly surrounded by a grassy forest floor. As I shoulder the pack and head up the hill above the Tallangatta ski club I always have that feeling of despair as I walk through burnt forests. But slowly you emerge into an absolute wonderland of old forest, of graceful well spaced trees. Whether its sunny, snowy, or misty, this is a magical place.
These old forests always remind me how scarce these forests are. The old trees all show signs of being burnt. The mostly open understorey and lack of ‘ladders’ to take the fire into the crowns of trees has probably assisted their survival. But we know that climate change driven fire regimes are pushing snow gums towards localised ecosystem collapse. What this means is that repeat fires are killing off parent trees and then the seedlings that grow after the first fire, and the ecosystem is converting to grass and shrub dominated systems.
We know that many areas of snow gums have been burnt multiple times in recent decades. We know that these pockets of old forest – which used to be the normal state of forest in the mountains – are getting rarer every year. We also know that, because of climate change, fire seasons will continue to get worse, burning and re burning these forests.
That makes places like Mt Wills more important each year.
That leads to the conclusion that we must be able to protect these precious areas, even in summers like 2019/20. That means additional resources, both in the air and on the ground to tackle fires before they get going.
Please help ensure the protection of the Mt Wills forests
1/ A simple thing you can do is to sign this letter to the Victorian minister for the Environment, urging her to act on the recommendations of the Icon at Risk report.
2/ And it would be great if you would also call on the Victorian government to create additional firefighting capacity to look after remote and wild areas like the Mt Wills plateau. There is information here.