The first time I skied in the backcountry in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, I was shocked by the dieback of pine trees. While I had read a lot about the beetle that is devastating a lot of the conifer forests in that part of the world, it was a shock to see it running through entire hillsides. Even in the glorious deep powder of a northern winter, I was reminded of the terrible ecological changes that are rippling through ecosystems across the planet.
Back home I was familiar with a similar pattern. Across the mountains that I love I could see the Alpine Ash in freefall as more frequent fires were starting to see local collapse of Ash communities. More regular and intense fires has led to loss of seedlings before they can produce seed. The situation is so dire that the Victorian government has an aerial seeding program to try and keep Ash populations viable.
Meanwhile, at higher elevations in the snow gum country, a double sided threat is charging through the forests: dieback, caused by a native beetle is killing individual trees, while climate change driven fire regimes were devastating vast areas of the high country.
Once you see these changes, you can’t unsee them. The endless stands of grey dead trunks. The loss of the old trees. The thickets of flammable regrowth. Every trip to the mountains reminds you that we are seeing ecological collapse in real time.