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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

Longer fire seasons in the USA spell trouble for Australia

After a terrible fire season in the last northern summer, the USA experienced fires right through winter and now, in spring, fires are raging across significant sections of the country.

In New Mexico, a fire has already burnt more than 80,000 ha. It has destroyed nearly 200 homes and led to the evacuation of thousands of families. US Forest Service firefighters say they have lost some ground in their efforts to contain the blaze.

Like in Australia, the USA relies on having enough large air tankers and helicopters to contain fires. However, we currently lease most of these aircraft from North America. As fire seasons in the northern hemisphere grow longer, it will get harder and more expensive to lease aircraft for our summers.

It’s time for Australia to establish a publicly owned air fleet, as was recommended by the Bushfire Royal Commission.

You can support the call for a publicly owned air fleet here > https://www.foe.org.au/firefighting

The rise of the ‘terafire’.

We are hearing ever more frequent mention of ‘Megafires’. The word is an emerging concept commonly used to describe fires that are extreme in terms of size, behaviour, and/or impacts.

In describing ‘Megafires’, it is clear that fire size thresholds vary round the world from > 100 to more 100,000 ha. In Australia, a mega fire year is defined as the cumulative burned area of forest over one year of more than 1 million hectares. Fires greater than 100,000 hectares have also been increasing – check this list for details.

Continue reading “The rise of the ‘terafire’.”

Forum: Threatened species and fire recovery

Upper Ovens Landcare are hosting a one day forum with the focus of ‘sharing stories from the Upper Ovens Valley’ about species recovery after fire. It will be held at  Dingo Dell, Mt Buffalo national park on Saturday 30 April 2022.

Continue reading “Forum: Threatened species and fire recovery”

Another year. Still no national air fleet.

Aerial firefighting capacity – planes and helicopters – are an essential component of Australia’s ability to respond to bushfires. This was demonstrated in the 2019-2020 bushfire season, when an unprecedented use of aircraft occurred. This summer was mild in the east but Western Australia saw months of terrible fires.

Australia has a nationally co-ordinated fleet of about 150 planes and helicopters in an average fire season (with up to 500 aircraft available on call when needed). These are used for firefighting, winching fire crews into remote areas, intelligence gathering and guiding larger aircraft in their operations (called Air Attack Supervision).

Continue reading “Another year. Still no national air fleet.”

Fires are getting worse. We need extra firefighting capacity to stop small ones becoming blazes

As we head towards winter, now is the time to think about next summer and the fires that may come after two wet, mild years. There are many things we need to do to be ready for the climate change driven fires of the future. Here is one of them: Victoria should set up a volunteer remote area firefighting team, which can work alongside the government paid fire crews. This would increase our capacity to stop lightning strikes from turning into massive blazes. It’s a good idea. It just needs a bit of political will and money to make it happen.

Continue reading “Fires are getting worse. We need extra firefighting capacity to stop small ones becoming blazes”

Documenting loss of Snow Gums in the VIC Alps

The recent The IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report included details about the threat posed by climate change to Snow Gum woodlands (story here). Mountain Journal has been recording the local loss of Snow Gum woodlands across the Australian high country for several years now.

In a welcome sign, the last two summers have been mild and wet, and this has led to reseeding in some previously burnt areas of Snow Gums after years of no growth. However almost every trip to the higher mountains reveals new areas that have been burnt to the point of ecological collapse.

Continue reading “Documenting loss of Snow Gums in the VIC Alps”

Climate change driven fire threatens Tasmania’s forests

While the summer of 2021/22 has been a mild fire season in the east of the country, there have been a small number of significant fires in lutruwita/ Tasmania that have threatened World Heritage Areas (including one that threatened an incredibly significant Huon pine forest). This is because the west of that state has been experiencing a prolonged and extreme drought, with some areas receiving their lowest rainfall on record.

As reported recently in The Conversation, “this drought fits an observed drying trend across the state, which will worsen due to climate change. This is very bad news for the ancient wilderness in the state’s World Heritage Area, where the lineage of some tree species stretch back 150 million years to the supercontinent Gondwana’.

The drying trend has seen a steady increase in bushfires ignited by lightning, imperilling the survival of Tasmania’s Gondwanan legacy, and raising profound fire management challenges.’ Continue reading “Climate change driven fire threatens Tasmania’s forests”

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”

‘Mature-aged native forest may never return to parts of Namadgi’

In January and February 2020, the Orroral Valley Fire burnt more than 80% of Namadgi National Park in the ACT. Since then, monitoring and recovery efforts have sought to protect damaged environments and aid the recovery of the park.

A report released in 2021 showed that some areas and forest types were recovering well (for instance, many Candle Bark forests and Snow Gums) however the news was grimmer for other vegetation types like Alpine Ash.

Two years on, it is clear that full recovery will take many years and sections of the park will never be the same. Mature-aged native forest may never return to parts of Namadgi National Park because climate change is impacting regeneration.

Continue reading “‘Mature-aged native forest may never return to parts of Namadgi’”

Fires in south west Tasmania

A number of small fires are burning in World Heritage Areas in lutruwita/ Tasmania. At this point details on each fire is fairly scare. This post will be updated as extra details arrive. Initial post: JAN 31, 2022.

Continue reading “Fires in south west Tasmania”

‘Citizen science’ field trip investigates loss of Snow Gums

Friends of the Earth recently held its first citizen science fieldtrip to map areas of Snow Gum forests in the Victorian mountains. These forests are largely protected in national parks but are threatened by climate driven fire regimes and dieback, which is caused by a native beetle.

We checked sites on the northern end of the Dargo High Plains, which is roughly south of the Hotham ski resort. We visited areas that have been burnt multiple times in recent years. This has resulted in the death of many parent trees, and then loss of the seedlings and resprouting that happened after the first fire. We were pleased to see that, after two mild and wet summers, seedlings have finally started to grow in sections of these burnt forests.

While these forests will recover from fire, climate change is making fires more frequent and this is leading to local loss of Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “‘Citizen science’ field trip investigates loss of Snow Gums”

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