Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps


alpine environment

Snow Gum citizen science field trip – January 2022

Snow Gums face a massive threat from the spread of dieback which is caused by a native beetle – and also super charged by climate change, and localised collapse of snow gum woodlands due to more frequent fires.

Last winter Friends of the Earth (FoE) published An Icon at Risk, which considers the many threats to the mountains of north east Victoria (the report is available here).

FoE will be hosting a field trip to map impacts of fire over four days in January 2022 in the Mt Hotham region.

Continue reading “Snow Gum citizen science field trip – January 2022”

Alpine Ecology Workshop

On May 1, an alpine ecology workshop was held at Dinner Plain, which had a focus on alpine peatlands.

The day was supported by a range of groups and featured fantastic presentations from peatland experts, followed by a wander and chat through some of the peatland systems that exist in Dinner Plain. It brought together locals, people interested in alpine ecology from the broader region, and a wonderful cast of experts. One of the key messages I took from the forum was that fire is a grave short-term threat to peatlands and already impacting widely on this vegetation community.

Congratulations to Gail Owen, a Dinner Plain resident and member of the BDPO Landcare Group, High Country Landcare Facilitator Lisa Lee and NECMA Biodiversity Project Officer, Phillip Falcke, and Bev Lawrence and Aviya Naccarella from Mt Hotham Alpine Resort Management for organising an excellent and informative day.

Continue reading “Alpine Ecology Workshop”

Alpine Ecology workshop at Dinner Plain

This full day workshop will happen at the community centre at Dinner Plain on Saturday May 1.

It will feature a great range of speakers, covering:

  • alpine peatland ecology
  • fire and alpine environments
  • opportunities to be involved in ecosystem restoration in the high country.

Continue reading “Alpine Ecology workshop at Dinner Plain”

Parks Victoria releases feral horse action plan for comment

Parks Victoria (PV) have released an updated draft action plan outlining feral horse management intentions over the next ten years.

You have until Friday 23 April to provide comment on the plan.

Continue reading “Parks Victoria releases feral horse action plan for comment”

Please track and report Snow Gum dieback

Snow gums are experiencing dieback in Kosciuszko National Park, largely because of the impacts of the native longicorn (or ‘longhorn’) beetle. These beetles prefer to lay their eggs on moisture-stressed trees and, in warmer weather, the longicorn beetle can hatch and grow up to 75% faster.

According to work published in the Resort Roundup winter 2019 edition (produced by the NSW government), ‘reduced snowfall, high summer temperatures such as January 2019 where temperatures at Thredbo top station were 4.4oC above average, and a reduction in autumn rainfall mean that snow gums are under much greater moisture stress than in the past.’ This means that larger beetle populations are causing more frequent dieback of some snow gum trees.

The SOS Snowgum program is asking people to log instances of dieback in mountain areas.

Continue reading “Please track and report Snow Gum dieback”

Fire impacts on the alpine treeline

Australia only has a tiny portion of it’s landmass which is sub alpine or alpine. We know that climate change is already impacting on mountain environments, and without meaningful action to reduce greenhouse emissions, this will only continue.

The true alpine zone, that area above the treeline, is tiny relative to the landmass. The tree line is the highest elevation that sustains tree growth and is around 1,800 metres above sea level in mountain areas on the mainland (lower in Tasmania). The tree line is mainly defined by the gradual disappearance of snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora), which are a type of Eucalyptus that can withstand the severe cold and dry conditions of the mountains. The tree line is defined by temperature, not altitude, which explains why Australia has a lower tree line than most other countries.

As the climate warms, it can be expected that snow gums will be able to colonise the open alpine terrain above. This will lead to the loss of the true alpine vegetation, as these communities are ‘pushed off the top’ of the mountains and replaced by snow gum woodland. New research sheds light on this process, and has shown the role that fire plays in how snow gums encroach of alpine zones.

A research paper titled ‘Alpine treeline ecotone stasis in the face of recent climate change and disturbance by fire’ (available here) and authored by Aviya Naccarella, John W. Morgan, Seraphina C. Cutler, and Susanna E. Venn considers the interaction between fire, climate change and the treeline. In short, and as you would expect, this research suggests that more frequent fire slows the rate of colonisation of trees above treeline.

Continue reading “Fire impacts on the alpine treeline”

Climate change pushing the alpine zone off mountains

We know that temperatures are increasing around the planet, and that this temperature increase is not uniform – areas at higher latitudes are experiencing a faster warming than areas closer to the equator. We also know that our own alpine environments are being affected by more erratic snow seasons, greater drought and longer fire seasons, and that this is affecting both plant and animal communities. This warming is more apparent at higher elevations.

Australia’s higher mountain ranges are relatively low and located at moderate latitudes. Our alpine zones are often quite isolated from each other, which increases the risk of localised species or community loss if a devastating fire impacts any particular area. We know that the snow line is rising and snowpack is in decline. As the snowline gets higher, warmer conditions will allow species to colonise higher up the mountain zones, potentially meaning that, over time, true alpine vegetation communities are ‘pushed’ off the top of mountains. For instance, recent research conducted by Brodie Verrall and Catherine Pickering from Griffith University found that subalpine grasslands will be impacted by ‘warmer and drier conditions becoming more common and repeat fires in some areas’, (resulting in changes to) ‘the distribution and composition of this and other communities in the Australian Alps’.

Continue reading “Climate change pushing the alpine zone off mountains”

VIC fires burn more than 100,000 ha.

It’s been a hard summer for fires, both in Tasmania and the mainland mountains. In Victoria, more than 100,000 hectares were burnt in the high country, making it another season of ‘mega fire’ (these large fires are growing in frequency under the influence of climate change).

Here’s a quick look at the major areas that were burnt:

Continue reading “VIC fires burn more than 100,000 ha.”

“The whole thing is unravelling”

Once again, we are hearing that Australia’s forests are being ‘reshaped’ by climate change as droughts, heat waves, rising temperatures and bushfires drive ecosystems towards collapse.

Ecologists have long predicted that climate change would have major consequences for Australia’s forests. Now they believe those impacts are already unfolding. Mountain Journal has often reported on this, for instance:

  • In Tasmania, research has confirmed the trend towards more extreme fire seasons. It suggests that we reached a ‘tipping point’ sometime around the year 2000 and that, since then, there has been an increase in the number of lightning-caused fires and an increase in the average size of the fires. This is impacting on fire sensitive vegetation like the high elevation Pencil Pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) forests and cool temperate rainforest.
  • Fires have decimated some populations of Alpine Ash and Snow Gum
  • Mountain Ash forests could collapse as a result of climate change

A new report, covered in The Guardian describes one of the processes driving the change, called the ‘interval squeeze’.

Continue reading ““The whole thing is unravelling””

Save Kosci walk underway

Over a hundred people joined the Save Kosci full distance walkers on the morning of Saturday 3rd November as they left The Domain in central Sydney.  The walk intends to highlight the negative impacts of wild horses on the alpine environment of the Snowy Mountains. The walkers have just completed their 3rd day and reached Liverpool, with a group of 14. Morale is high and the walkers are getting sympathetic reactions from people they meet along the way.

They are on schedule, so far, to reach the summit of Kosciuszko around 7 to 9 December. If you drive past them in their bright yellow safety vests, give them a friendly toot.  Continue reading “Save Kosci walk underway”

‘Assisted migration’ for species under threat from climate change?

As temperatures rise and the world’s climate rapidly changes, many plants and animals may not be able to relocate fast enough on their own, and habitats and species could be lost. In Australia warmer temperatures are expected to increase the length and severity of bushfire seasons, which will also cause changes in the distribution of many mountain species.

For instance, increased fire frequency may lead to the loss of alpine ash forests, unless there is human intervention.

Continue reading “‘Assisted migration’ for species under threat from climate change?”

Concerned about feral horses in Kosciuszko? Get walking

On the 3rd November, a bunch of bushwalkers will start a 35 day walk from Sydney to the summit of Kosciuszko, to highlight the damage being caused by feral horses.

They are looking for walkers to join them for all or some of the walk. The route will follow main and secondary roads, via Camden, Mittagong, Goulburn, Canberra, Cooma and Charlotte Pass.  With the support of the National Parks Associations of NSW and the ACT, and Bushwalking NSW, they are expecting large crowds at the start and finish of the walks. More detail is available on the Save Kosci web site (

You’ll be able to register as a walker or non-walking helper from early September. Watch this page for further news, or contact Linda Groom,

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