the winter that was. Mt Loch, VIC
the winter that was. Mt Loch, VIC

March 2013.

Looking back over the past year, two things stand out for me: the spectacular winter, and the long fire season we have just experienced in the Victorian High Country.

That winter seems like a lifetime ago, eclipsed by a fire season that saw two major fires burn large tracts of the High Country. The Aberfeldy fire ran across the southern fall line of the mountains, threatening Heyfield and Licola. The Harrietville fire started on the north west spur of Feathertop, and burnt over the Divide and past Hotham village, splitting into two separate complex systems, with the southern front passing beyond the Blue Rag Range and swinging around past Mt Tabletop to within striking distance of Dinner Plain.

The Harrietville fire had particular human impacts, in terms of disruption of life and economic activity. As of early March, the Great Alpine Road remains closed between Harrietville and Hotham village, with huge impacts on local businesses, and is expected to be open for the long weekend.

Just before Christmas, there was a call for submissions to a Senate inquiry into ‘Recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events’. In it’s submission Friends of the Earth  focused on the likely impacts on alpine economies and argued that extreme weather constituted a ‘secondary impact’ of global warming. It argued that erratic weather events and fires could threaten the viability of many economic activities in the Alps in years to come. Sadly, this observation was borne out by this fire season, which saw large sections of the tourist industry effectively shut down for much of the summer, and large scale events (such as the Dragon  Boat races at Falls Creek and a number of large bike rides) either cancelled or re located.

Bogong High Plains fires, 2007
Bogong High Plains fires, 2007

The fires in the Alps also generated some debate about the value or otherwise of fuel reduction burning. While some argue that the fires were just a ‘clean out’ of heavy fuel loads and that control burns would stop future fire risk, this isn’t really supported by evidence. We have had, in effect, three burns over a decade in some parts of the Alps – the 2003 fires, 2006/7 and now 2013. Yet the fire still raged and took weeks to control in these same areas. If fuel reduction tactics were so effective at reducing the intensity of fires when they do happen, why were this seasons fires of such a scale? Clearly there are a range of factors at play, and taking a simplistic ‘grazing reduces blazing’ type approach misses the complexity of this debate (although, of course, for some people and organisations it does play a valuable role in pushing political agendas).

Another ‘highlight’ of the past year has been the fact that the implementation of a regressive  agenda by the Baillieu government has really been playing out, including in the Alps.

In terms of  most visited sections of the site, these were the most popular in the past 12 months:

·    The story on opposition to logging of native forests at Toolangi, in the Victorian Central Highlands,

·    The on-going Alpine grazing debate, including a piece which is critical about mountain grazing advocates (Mountain cattlemen ignore history in claiming their place in the Alps). I was surprised by the response to this, and I received a remarkable number of positive emails about this story,

·    The Side country ski and boarding guide to the Mt Hotham area is a perennial favourite. I extended and re-wrote the section in order to make it a little easier to use,

·    The Backcountry film festival. For details on the 2013 season, please check here,

·    The ‘Ducane traverse’ in Tasmania. I am always impressed by how many people check this section, given that this alpine traverse from the Overland Track to the Labyrinth in Cradle Mountain National Park, is quite obscure. The first time I did this trip, I could not find any notes on it, beyond a mention in the book The Abels, part 1. This is a wonderful and inspiring backcountry walk or snow shoe adventure, and I am glad that many people seem to be interested in visiting this fantastic range,

·    The proposal by the NSW government to allow hunting in national parks, and

·    The section on this seasons fires in the Victorian alps.

As always it has been great to get feedback and more people are now contributing content as well. I have enjoyed Ben Laycock’s occasional ‘Greetings from ….’ stories over the past year. Please keep it coming.

Hope to see you out in the hills sometime over the next twelve months. Regards, Cam