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Alpine Ash

IPCC report points to collapse of Alpine Ash and Snowgum woodland

The IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report has just been released (and is available here).

The take home message is:

Further climate change is inevitable, with the rate and magnitude of impact largely dependent on the emission reduction pathways that we choose. Time is running out if we want to act.

The final sentence of new IPCC report is: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

The Chapter on Australasia (available here) has a considerable amount of detail on likely impacts on mountain areas of south eastern Australia and lutruwita/ Tasmania. Some of these are summarised below. It looks at both observed impacts and predicted future impacts (applying a level of certainty to each of these).

Continue reading “IPCC report points to collapse of Alpine Ash and Snowgum woodland”

Yet another warning that we need to act now to protect forests from climate change-driven fire

According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program and environmental not-for-profit organisation GRID-Arendal, as climate change continues to destablise global weather patterns, we can expect up to 50% more wildfires by the turn of the century.

This will impact on us locally and the mountain forests we love.

One example of this is Alpine Ash forests, which have been heavily impacted by fire in recent decades. The same threats are starting to cause local collapse of Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “Yet another warning that we need to act now to protect forests from climate change-driven fire”

Alpine and Mountain Ash face potential declines in a warmer and drier future.

We know that the Alpine Ash forests are struggling to survive in the face of climate change driven fire regimes that are bringing fire into these forests more frequently.

The scale of this threat is so extreme that the Victorian government has a program specifically responsible for reseeding forests that are on the verge of ecosystem collapse.

New research underscores, yet again, that the mountain forests face grave threats from climate change and that this could lead to the transformation of these forests.

Continue reading “Alpine and Mountain Ash face potential declines in a warmer and drier future.”

‘The places humanity must not destroy to avoid climate chaos’

Detailed new mapping has pinpointed the carbon-rich forests and peatlands that humanity cannot afford to destroy if climate catastrophe is to be avoided.

The vast forests and peatlands of Russia, Canada and the US are vital, researchers found, as are tropical forests in the Amazon, the Congo and south-east Asia. Peat bogs in the UK and mangrove swamps and eucalyptus forests in Australia are also on the list.

This highlights the need to protect the carbon dense forests of south eastern Australia which are still being subjected to clearfell logging.

Continue reading “‘The places humanity must not destroy to avoid climate chaos’”

Climate change and rise of the ‘mega fire’

Recent research by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, shows that climate change has driven a ‘significant increase’ in Australia’s forest fire activity over the last three decades.

A lengthening of the fire season towards Autumn and Winter were also identified, along with an increase in fire activity in cooler and warmer regions including alpine forests in Tasmania and tropical rainforests in Queensland.

This is not really ‘new’ news. The impacts of climate change in terms of length of fire season and intensity of fire is well documented (for instance, the head of the firefighting agency for Victoria’s public lands, Chris Hardman, notes that there has been a 170% increase in bushfire ignitions over the last 50 years, a 20% reduction in spring rainfall, and a 40% increase in very high and severe fire risk days.

What is especially interesting is that this research, which was published in Nature Communications is the first of its kind in that it combines analysis of previous forest fire sites with eight ‘drivers’ of fire activity including climate, fuel accumulation, ignition and management (prescribed burning).

Continue reading “Climate change and rise of the ‘mega fire’”

Can ‘super seeds’ reduce the risk of local extinction of Alpine Ash?

Fire has always been a part of life here in Australia (well, at least for the last 60 million years). And as a result much of our vegetation is fire reliant or fire adapted. But climate change is changing fire seasons, making them longer and more intense. And this is having a terrible impact on many fire sensitive vegetation communities. The Alpine Ash is one of these.

After a series of fires in the early 21st century, the Victorian government had to intervene to ensure the survival of Alpine Ash communities through a ‘forest recovery program’ (source). Since 2002, more than 85% of the Alps bioregion has been burnt by several very large fires. Alpine Ash require around 20 years between intense fires in order for regrowth to be able to produce seed (source), and more frequent blazes are threatening the viability of this vegetation community across the Alps.

This restoration initiative has been an effective program which sources seed and then aerial sows areas which have been devasted by wildfire.

However, the program is being stretched by more regular fires and a review of the 2019/20 fires found that it doesn’t have enough seed stock to deal with bad fire seasons.

Now, Greening Australia and Minderoo Foundation have joined together to find ‘super seeds’ from the Alpine Ash which are suited to a changing climate.

Continue reading “Can ‘super seeds’ reduce the risk of local extinction of 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.

Continue reading “Future fire regimes threaten Alpine Ash”

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”

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