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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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bushfires

Seminar – Climate change, fire and the Victorian Alps

A report from the ‘Climate change and the Victorian Alps – preparing for the fires of the future’ seminar, which was held as part of the speakers program for the 2022 Victorian backcountry festival at Mt Hotham on September 2.

Speakers included an academic, a local landcare representative, Parks Victoria and DELWP.

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The multiple threats to the survival of snow gums

For years now, Mountain Journal has posted about the multiple threats posed to our mountain environments which link back to climate change, including increased frequency of fire, higher temperatures, more frequent drought, and more impact from dieback (which is a natural phenomenon which is being super charged by global heating). These have also been documented in the Friends of the Earth report An Icon at Risk.

Its always good to see mainstream news coverage of these threats.

Genelle Weule, writing for ABC Science, has written an indepth piece which covers these threats.

Continue reading “The multiple threats to the survival of snow gums”

As the northern hemisphere burns, what are the lessons for Australia?

The northern hemisphere summer has been terrible. Heat waves have killed many thousands, from Iran and India to Portugal and France. Flash flooding has closed the Grand Canyon, while ‘Lake’ Mead, a massive dam on the Colorado River, is almost empty. Across the northern hemisphere, from Siberia and Alaska to normally temperate countries like England and even Ireland there have been devastating wild fires.

Droughts, which are exacerbated by a warming climate, are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. Firefighters in temperate countries are often not equipped or trained in dealing with landscape scale fires. There are not prepared for potentially months long seasons. In one month, wildfires tore through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which had all seen record-high temperatures. Greece and Turkey also burnt. This challenged the fire fighting capacity in each country. For instance, in mid August, a wildfire broke out in France’s Gironde region. The fire grew to more than 15,000 acres in a short time and 8,000 people were evacuated. Local firefighting capacity was overwhelmed. Firefighters from a number of countries, including Sweden and Italy, were mobilised to support local efforts.

[Header image: Geoffrey Browne]

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Climate change, fire and mountain environments

We know that climate change is already impacting on the Australian Alps. Declining snow pack, hotter summers, and longer fire seasons are just some of the impacts we are seeing. This brings many challenges to land managers, and is changing the mountain landscapes we know and love.

Additionally, local economies rely on the beautiful natural surroundings of the Alps, which attract skiers, riders and others from around the state and the country. Declining environments will impact on the numbers of visitors and hence local economies.

This short seminar will delve into the issue of fire, and how we need to respond to longer and more intense seasons in the Victorian mountains.

If you can’t attend the event, it will be livestreamed via the event facebook page.

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Climate change overwhelms the benefits of prescribed burning

We know that climate change is making our fire seasons longer and more intense. This brings up a range of problems and questions, including the need to increase ground and air capacity to fight fire, how we sustain volunteer and career firefighters through longer summers, how we grapple with the chance that we will get less support from overseas in coming years, and how we manage our landscapes and live in forested areas in a way that allows us to minimise the impacts of fire.

 

One of the tools we use to manage the intensity of fire is prescribed (or hazard or fuel reduction) burning. While Australia is a continent adapted to fire, there are ecological impacts, potentially both positive and negative, attached to fuel reduction operations.

 

New research says that the value of prescribed burning is declining as climate change drives more intense fire behaviour.

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The elders among the devastation

If you visit this website often you will be familiar with the depressing stories about the decline of the wonderful snow gum. Between dieback and more intense fire seasons, the iconic tree of the high country is in decline.

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. If you’re interested in the detail of this, check these articles.

But we still have a lot of amazing older and mixed age snow gum forests. And in the depressing reality of the 21st century, it’s good to celebrate and love the places that are still intact. Please share your favourite spots.

Continue reading “The elders among the devastation”

Tasmania’s south-west threatened by drought and fire

Mountain Journal has often reported on the threats to remnant ancient forests in lutruwita/ Tasmania. Vegetation that dates back to the time when Australia was a part of the Gondwana super continent remain in mountain and low land areas in the centre and west of the state, and are under threat from climate change driven fire regimes.

For instance, this story reports on the drying trend that has been noted in south western Tasmania which has seen a steady increase in bushfires ignited by lightning, threatening the survival of Tasmania’s Gondwanan legacy.

A recent story from Zoe Kean, published on the Tasmanian Inquirer website (available here) highlights the threats to these vegetation communities.

Continue reading “Tasmania’s south-west threatened by drought and fire”

After two mild summers, burnt snow gum forests are recovering.

Over the past couple of years, various people have been tracking the localised loss of snow gums in the Victorian high country due to more frequent and intense fires. We know that snow gums are, like many Australian trees, fire adapted. But we also know that they enjoy a decent gap between fires and that with climate change already increasing the frequency and intensity of fires, that we are starting to see localised loss (‘collapse’) of these woodland communities.

Given my connection to the Mt Hotham/ Dinner Plain/ Dargo High Plains area, initial investigations started there. Sadly, there is no shortage of localised collapse in that area, where repeat fires have killed off both parent trees and seedling regrowth. But through advertising via Mountain Journal and the Snow Gum citizen science facebook page, we started to get reports from across the Victorian Alps, from Mt Clear in the ranges south west of Howitt to Mt Pinnibar, in the far north east of the state. Thanks to everyone who contributed content.

Having greater numbers of people looking has given a wider sense of where loss is happening. But it has also given us an understanding that, in many areas, the trees are now starting to come back.

This is wonderful news.

Continue reading “After two mild summers, burnt snow gum forests are recovering.”

Giving back to the mountains

Some chats with mountain people

These stories are taken from Mountain Journal #2, a magazine which is distributed across the mountain and valley towns of south eastern Australia (available as a pdf here).

This year we thought we would focus our stories on people who are actively doing good in and for the mountains. This is just the tip of the iceberg: there are the park rangers, the weather forecasters, the fire tower watchers, the garbos and mechanics and road clearers who keep the resorts open, the snow makers, and all the folks who keep the mountain communities open and thriving. But this is a start.

For many more stories and profiles please check here https://themountainjournal.com/interviews-profiles/

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‘We all have a passion for the snow, and we want to give back and protect our mountain community’.

Across the Alpine areas, volunteer and career firefighters protect the mountains from fire. There are volunteer brigades in resort towns like Hotham, Falls Creek and Mt Buller. Crews employed through Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) manage fires on public lands. Firefighting in alpine environments can bring particular challenges, where summer landscape scale fires alternate with fighting fire in snow covered villages of often closely packed buildings.

This story is from Bec Roberts, who is the the 2nd lieutenant of the Mount Hotham – Dinner Plain Fire Brigade.

Continue reading “‘We all have a passion for the snow, and we want to give back and protect our mountain community’.”

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’.”

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