Over the past couple of years, various people have been tracking the localised loss of snow gums in the Victorian high country due to more frequent and intense fires. We know that snow gums are, like many Australian trees, fire adapted. But we also know that they enjoy a decent gap between fires and that with climate change already increasing the frequency and intensity of fires, that we are starting to see localised loss (‘collapse’) of these woodland communities.
Given my connection to the Mt Hotham/ Dinner Plain/ Dargo High Plains area, initial investigations started there. Sadly, there is no shortage of localised collapse in that area, where repeat fires have killed off both parent trees and seedling regrowth. But through advertising via Mountain Journal and the Snow Gum citizen science facebook page, we started to get reports from across the Victorian Alps, from Mt Clear in the ranges south west of Howitt to Mt Pinnibar, in the far north east of the state. Thanks to everyone who contributed content.
Having greater numbers of people looking has given a wider sense of where loss is happening. But it has also given us an understanding that, in many areas, the trees are now starting to come back.
This is wonderful news.
To take one example we have watched closely for years, on the northern end of the Dargo High Plains, there was significant local loss of all snow gums – from parent trees to lignotuber regrowth to seedlings, because of repeat fires over the past two decades. In some instances there was no obvious regrowth even eight or 10 years after the most recent fire, with what had been snow gum forests converting to fields of dead trees, grasses and other ground cover.
However, during surveys in January and February 2022, there was resprouting (mostly of seedlings) in some of these areas. It would appear that the two mild and wet summers we have experienced since 2019/20 have provided an opportunity for seed that had possibly been in the soil to germinate. We are now seeing regeneration occurring in a number of other sites that had not had seedlings or regrowth for up to 5 years.
ABOVE and BELOW: an area of snow gum woodland which is finally showing some recovery, with snow gum seedlings becoming established. East side of Dargo High Plains road, north of the Plains/ Mt Freezeout track turnoff.
It is also consistent with what we understand about snow gums – that they will come back from fire, through epicormic or lignotuber growth, or through new seedlings. However, it also underscores something else – that regrowing forests can be completely destroyed if fire returns while the seedlings are small. There is additional information on some long term research into recovery of snow gums after fire can be found here.
ABOVE: one of the spots we have been tracking for several years. Just north of the Dargo High Plains road, south west of Mt Freezeout.
This means we need to do everything in our power to keep fire out of these snow gum forests as they recover. A range of suggestions on what we should do is included in this letter.
Please keep your observations coming in. If you see local loss/ collapse of snow gum woodlands please let us know.
- Take a photo
- Provide specific details on where it is
- If possible given an estimation of the scale of the loss (eg an area 10 metres by 30 metres)
- Provide any other details you think may be relevant (eg info on recent fire history – what years the area was burnt, etc)
And please post on the citizen science facebook page.
You can find out more about the threats to snow gums (including dieback caused by native beetles) in the report An Icon At Risk, published by Friends of the Erath in 2021. Available here.
It would be great if you would sign the letter to the Victorian environment minister, asking her to investigate the scale of the snow gum dieback in the Victorian Alps. Available here.
And for all our reporting on fire risk to snow gums, please check here.