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Alpine Ash

Alpine Ash recovery program not yet ready for mega fires

After the 2019–20 Victorian fire season, the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) was charged with ‘investigating Victoria’s preparedness for the fire season, response to fires in large parts of Victoria’s North East, Gippsland, and Alpine regions, and will review relief and recovery efforts’. It has now released its second report, which looks at recovery efforts since the fires (available here).

It makes a series of observations and recommendations relating to the recovery of the environment after the fires. One is especially significant for the future of the Alpine Ash.

Continue reading “Alpine Ash recovery program not yet ready for mega fires”

Future fire regimes threaten Alpine Ash

Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) is the classic tree of the sub alpine forests and tends to be replaced by Snow Gum woodlands at higher elevations. In Victoria it is also known as Woolybutt. It only exists in south eastern Australia (there is also a sub species in Tasmania). In Victoria, it occurs at altitudes between 900 and 1,500 metres above sea level.

It has had 84% of it’s range in Victoria burnt since 2002. Large fires occurred in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, in 2006/2007 in the south. And during 2019/20, around 83,000 hectares of Ash forest was burnt, with 17,800 hectares of this being reproductively immature ash forest that burned at high severity.

We know that large old trees in ecosystems in Victoria which are dominated by Alpine Ash are in ‘rapid decline’. The problem is that Alpine Ash need around 20 years to reach reproductive maturity, so if fires happen more frequently than this, local extinction is possible because there is no seed stock to create a new forest.

New research shows us, yet again, that increased fire regimes threaten this vegetation community. Future fire regimes increase risks to obligate-seeder forests by Sarah C McColl-Gausden, Lauren T Bennett, Dan A Ababei, Hamish G Clarke, and Trent D Penman, and published on 23 September 2021 describes the impacts of fire on Alpine Ash.

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National Threatened Species Day 2021

Every year on September 7, National Threatened Species Day is commemorated across Australia to raise awareness of plants and animals at risk of extinction.

There are currently 457 species of fauna and 1348 species of flora listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered under Australia’s Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Many of these are found nowhere else in the world.

This is a summary of some of the threats facing mountain species.

Continue reading “National Threatened Species Day 2021”

Bushfire review is a chance to protect Alpine Ash forests

In March 2020, just a few months after the devastating 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires, state and federal governments rolled over the controversial Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) which give logging an exemption from federal environment laws.

A new clause has been introduced where a significant event (like the 2019/2020 bushfires) can trigger a Major Event Review (MER).

The review was announced last year, but since then logging in critical habitat for threatened species has continued, and there have been no changes to logging schedules. The review is now open to public consultation and submissions will be accepted until 31 August 2021.

You can find out more about this review here.

Continue reading “Bushfire review is a chance to protect Alpine Ash forests”

An Icon at Risk: current and emerging threats to the Victorian Alps

Snow Gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are the classic alpine tree of the High Country, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. Anyone who has visited the Australian High Country will know – and probably love – these trees.

In recent decades, wildfire has been devastating huge areas of the Snow Gum forests, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7, 2013 and 2019/20. More than 90% of Snow Gum habitat has been burnt at least once in the last 20 years.

The species can survive fire. However, climate change driven fire seasons are leading to more frequent fire, which is causing more death of trees and changes to forest structure. In some instances, localised collapse of Snow Gum woodlands is now being observed. As climate scientist Michael Mann describes it, we are now seeing climate change play out in real time.

We must ask whether we are now seeing the start of the collapse of Snow Gum woodlands, one of Victoria’s iconic vegetation communities.

Continue reading “An Icon at Risk: current and emerging threats to the Victorian Alps”
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Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem

The state government logging agency, VicForests, intends to log a total of 11 “coupes”, or sections, of mature forest, dominated by Alpine Ash, in the headwaters of the Little Dargo River, an area of state forest that lies right next to the Alpine National Park. These coupes are located in a series of clusters, where separate sections of bush will be harvested, creating a large zone of cleared land over time. One coupe has already been logged. The remaining coupes have not yet been scheduled for harvesting, and are yet to be surveyed. There is still time to stop this ecological disaster – if we act now.

The Little Dargo is roughly 15 kilometres south of the Mt Hotham ski resort in the mountains of north eastern Victoria. Background on the logging can be found here.

Continue reading “Logging on the Dargo High Plains part of a much bigger problem”

Tracking Snow Gum decline

Alpine Ash is a quintessential tree of the higher foothill country of the Australian Alps. It is facing an existential threat from fire. It has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

Snow gums are the classic alpine tree of the mainland, generally growing at heights between 1,300 and 1,800 metres asl. But wildfire has also been devastating large swathes of snow gum habitat, with significant fires in the Victorian High Country in 1998, 2002/3, 2006/7 and 2013. Much of Kosciuszko National Park was burnt in 2003. South Eastern Australia suffered from a drought that lasted more than a decade and this greatly increased the severity of the fires that have occurred since the turn of the 21st century. The result of the fires is that often the parent tree has been killed back to ground level, with subsequent re-shooting of leaves from lignotuber buds under the bark. In this way, individual trees can exist through various ‘lives’, often surviving multiple fires.

The Victorian government is now so concerned about the threat of fire on Alpine Ash communities that it has launched a seeding program to help the species survive.

As yet the government does not see the need to intervene in the same way with Snow Gums.

Continue reading “Tracking Snow Gum decline”

Forest refuges under threat from logging

new report based on analysis of maps and data from the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires has revealed that significant areas of unburnt forests critical for bushfire affected wildlife are set to be logged by the Victorian Government. This includes areas in the Victorian high country.

The report was produced by a range of groups, including Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and the Victorian National Parks Association.

GECO says ‘These and other important areas are still scheduled for logging, when they need to be protected. Take action and email decision makers to drop logging plans and protect forests and wildlife’.

Continue reading “Forest refuges under threat from logging”

Dead forests making bushfires worse

We know that climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense. This is happening globally. It has enormous implications for the landscapes that we love, how we prepare for and fight fires, and even how we live in fire prone areas.

These fires are transforming the landscapes we know and love. Anyone who has driven out of Jindabyne into the Snowy Mountains, or Mt Beauty towards the Bogong High Plains knows what I am talking about – endless walls of grey, dead trees. Only 0.47% of old growth Alpine Ash still exists in Victoria. This has huge implications for the aesthetics of our mountain areas, and significant ecological implications.

Increased fire frequency could see mountain forests like Alpine Ash replaced by wattle woodlands. As recently noted by Brett McNamara, the manager of Namadgi National Park:

Recovery happens but it is “tainted with a sense of what does the future hold for us if we are to experience fire again and again with such intensity. This is where the question is unanswered. What these mountains will look like well into the future?”

The huge volumes of dead trees from previous fires also creates a lot of fuel that is already dry and hence ready to burn in future fires. What are the implications of this for our fire fighting and land management efforts?

Continue reading “Dead forests making bushfires worse”

Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires

The Bushfire Recovery Project, led by five scientists, is tracking forest regrowth in NSW and Victoria after last summer’s fires, using data gathered by citizen scientists.

Their report has found that while low elevation forests on the NSW south coast appear to be recovering well, forests in some subalpine areas ‘near Mount Kosciuszko and in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are struggling to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires’.

This is consistent with everything we already know about the impact of climate driven fire seasons on the higher elevation Alpine Ash forests and Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires”

Salvage logging in Alpine Ash forests

Last summer’s fires devastated huge sections of Eastern Victoria, and disrupted regional economies in the east of the state.

They burned 1.4 million hectares, much of it forested public land. They destroyed more than 50% of the habitat for 185 rare and threatened Victorian plants and animals. They pushed already critically endangered species like the greater glider, smoky mouse, others perilously close to extinction. They also impacted large areas of Alpine Ash forest, which the government now intends to log.

Continue reading “Salvage logging in Alpine Ash forests”

There is only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash left in the Central Highlands

Alpine Ash, a quintessential tree of the Australian Alps, which is restricted to higher elevations, mostly between 900 m and 1,450 m in Victoria and southern New South Wales, has had 84% of it’s range burnt since 2002. Fires have burnt 84% of the bioregion’s 355,727 hectares of alpine ash forest, with 65% burnt in 2002/03 in the north of the Alps, 30% burnt in 2006/2007 in the south, and a smaller area (2%) burnt in 2009. Four per cent of the forest area was burnt twice within five years. And last summer, additional areas were burnt in the east of the state. This has led to scientists warning that large sections of Alpine Ash forests are on the verge of collapse.

And world renowned forest researcher David Lindenmayer says that only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash is left in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Let that sink in for a moment. The amount of old growth in the east and north east of the state is not known. But these areas have been heavily burnt in recent years, with ‘at least’ 10,000 ha of the forest community on the verge of collapse.

Continue reading “There is only 0.47% of old growth alpine ash left in the Central Highlands”

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