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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

The UpSide of a wet spring: lots of river running

What a spring. The rains and flooding just keep on going. It’s been snowing in the high country. Many events are being cancelled or rained out (luckily the recent Rogaining Victoria event at Mt Stirling dodged most of the rain), and Falls Creek is isolated from Mt Beauty until next year. Many dirt roads are impassable and there is widespread damage to the road network. On the plus side we won’t be facing fires in the high country any time soon, but its currently not great walking, riding or camping weather.

But there is one group who’s happy this spring: the paddling community. With epic conditions in our river valleys, even smaller streams are currently able to be paddled.

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Logging at Mt Stirling – what’s at stake?

With news that logging could commence on Mt Stirling as soon as this week, Friends of the Earth (FoE) activists visited the mountain over the weekend of November 18 – 20. Assisted by Friends of Mt Stirling and the Victorian National Parks Association, we visited most of the planned coupes and carried out night time surveying for threatened animal species in a number of them.

What we found was a rich diversity of forests and ecosystems, from mid elevation mixed species forests, areas dominated by alpine ash, and in the higher Number 3 area, proposed coupes that were a mix of older snow gums intermixed with alpine ash. While we did not spot either Greater Glider or Yellow-bellied Gliders (YBG), we found forests within the coupes with likely habitat for these species and an active YBG feed tree.

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‘Keep-It-Wild.org’ is launched

The ‘luxury walk’ model is booming across Australia, leading to increased interest in the money-making potential of putting commercial developments in our national parks. New proposals are popping up across Australia, from Cooloola in Queensland’s Great Sandy National Park to the South Coast Track in Tasmania; from NT’s Kings Canyon to the Light to Light walk on the NSW south coast; Kangaroo Island in South Australia to the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing in Victoria’s Alpine National Park.

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Mountain forests miss out on protection

 

In November 2019 over 96,000 hectares of Immediate Protection Areas (IPAs) were announced by the Victorian government alongside the Victorian Forestry Plan which will see an end to native forest logging by 2030. IPA boundaries for four areas have now been finalised.

However, there has been no additional protection of forests threatened with logging in the Victorian high country.

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‘Forests, Snowpack and Wildfires Appear Trapped in a Vicious Climate Cycle’

Fire is becoming an increasingly destructive force in mountain areas. This has many environmental and economic impacts. A new study from the USA investigates how extreme wildfires in 2020 affected the water cycle in key mountain forests that store water in the form of snow pack that is released through spring. The findings are consistent with earlier research in the Australian high country.

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“Climate change is occurring 10 times faster than at any time in past 65 million years”

We recently posted an item outlining the fact that the combined climate pledges of 193 Parties under the Paris Agreement could put the world on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. That would mean the end of winters as we know them.

There is a range of research shows that warming is happening even faster than previously understood.

“The planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct. But what might be even more troubling for humans, plants and animals is the speed of the change. In new research, Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years”.

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Acknowledging the pioneers who protected the Alps

Over the past two years, we have produced two printed versions of the Mountain Journal. The first one focused on Where are we? (Visions from First Nations people about their aspirations for the Alps). The second focused on Giving back to the mountains (profiles on some of the many people doing good things in the mountains, like campaigning, guiding, ski patrolling and restoration work and so on).

The third issue (due out around New Year) will look at the people who came before us and who built our knowledge of the value of the high country, influenced our views of the mountains, and worked to have them protected.

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“The world is on track to hit as much as 2.8C of warming this century”

Overall, the world has warmed on average just a little over 1oC since the start of the industrial revolution due to human caused climate change. We can see what this has done to winter in the Australian mountains. Snow pack has been in decline since at least 1957. Winter snowfalls are becoming more erratic. Climate change is already visible at lower elevation resorts in the Australian Alps. And recent climate research suggests that the Australian Alps may suffer from a loss of snow as climate change supercharges phenomena known as ‘atmospheric rivers’. These are long, narrow regions of high moisture content in the lower atmosphere that transport most of the water vapour from the tropics to the sub-tropics and midlatitudes,

A new report from UN Climate Change shows that while countries are ‘bending the curve’ of global greenhouse gas emissions downward, that these efforts remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

According to the report, the combined climate pledges of 193 Parties under the Paris Agreement could put the world on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. That would mean the end of winters as we know them.

Continue reading ““The world is on track to hit as much as 2.8C of warming this century””

Major logging operations to start at Mt Stirling

A considerable number of areas of forest on and around Mt Stirling are due to be logged soon (November 2022 onwards). This will have significant impacts on tourism (a number of the areas will be cut along the popular Circuit Road), will further fragment the important alpine ash forests on the mountain, and threaten the viability of older alpine ash and snow gum forests upslope due to the highly flammable nature of logging regrowth..

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Quantifying the climate cost of the Black summer fires

We know that climate change is resulting in increased fire severity and extent in Australia’s temperate Eucalyptus forests. While Eucalyptus forest communities are generally adapted to the presence of fire and in some instances need irregular fires, as the gap between fires become shorter and fires become more severe, there are obvious biodiversity impacts. For instance, forests are already changing – especially the alpine ash and snow gums, which are in a state of decline and even ecological collapse in many parts of the high country.

There is also the question of the how carbon released during these fires adds further fuel to climate change. While the general understanding is that carbon lost to the atmosphere during a fire is drawn down again in subsequent regrowth, is climate driven fire seasons causing more carbon to be lost into the atmosphere, thereby making climate change worse?

New research (Tree mortality and carbon emission as a function of wildfire severity in south-eastern Australian temperate forests, to be published in the journal Science of the Total Environment a summary is available here) considers these issues and fills some significant gaps in our knowledge about the links between fire and its contribution to climate change.

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Call out for content – MJ magazine #3

Over the past two winters, Mountain Journal has produced an annual print edition.

We are going to produce a summer edition (due out in January) and would welcome your content.

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CHASING the MOUNTAIN LIGHT: A Life Photographing Wild Places

All landscapes have appeal. Some are easier to love than others. Many Australians love the beach and coastlines. Some love the desert, or wetlands, rainforests or the tall Ash forests. Some people have more obscure tastes – mangroves or mulga or gibber plains. But many of us love the mountains. And some of us express this love through writing, film, poetry, photography or other forms of communication. A new book called Chasing the Mountain Light delves deep into love of the mountains through the medium of images and writing.

The subititle of the book explains it perfectly: ‘A life photographing wild places’. The work of David Neilson, it is a glorious coffee table sized book featuring wonderful black and white images from south western lutruwita/ Tasmania, Patagonia, Karakoram and the Alps of Australia, New Zealand and Europe and other ranges such as the Andes.

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