Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps



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.

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‘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.

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Firefighters demand climate action

Bushfires are becoming more frequent and the bushfire season is coming earlier and lasting longer because of climate change.

These longer fire seasons in Australia are not “normal”. They are being driven by human induced global heating (climate change). Unless we act now to reduce our emissions in line with what climate science suggests, we will become locked in to ever worsening fire seasons. We know that climate driven fires pose an extreme threat to mountain environments like Alpine Ash and Snow Gums.

The Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance (AFCA) has launched a new campaign, asking firefighters to post an image of themselves on a fireground, and demanding the Austrtalian government act on climate change.

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Time is running out for mountain woodlands

It is worth going back to a report from 2020 that shows the impacts of fire in Victoria. Most of the area burned in the summer of 2019/20 is in mixed-species eucalypt forests, which are common throughout eastern Victoria, and which can recover well from fire.

But the fires also burnt forest types of more limited distribution including banksia woodlands, warm temperate rainforests, and mountain communities including alpine ash forests and snow gum woodlands.

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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.”

Fires in Tasmanian World Heritage Areas

Back in 2019, Tasmania/ lutruwita was badly impacted by wildfires (check here for a diary of those fires). With much of south eastern Australia experiencing a La Nina mild summer, the forecast is for a ‘mild’ season across most of the south east.

But following lightning storms over the weekend of December 18 and 19, 2021, a number of fires have started in remote World Heritage Areas in Tasmania/ lutruwita. It has been noted that since the year 2000, there has been an increase in the number of lightning-caused fires and an increase in the average size of the fires in Tasmania, “resulting in a marked increase in the area burnt”.

This page will track significant fires on public lands in Tasmania during the summer of 2021/22.

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‘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.

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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).

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Calling mountain firefighters

You may have seen that we are now producing occasional print runs of a Mountain Journal magazine. The first one came out in August this year, is slowly being distributed, and available as a PDF here.

The themes of the first edition were First Nation Voices and Living with Fire. Based on feedback, a popular section was the ‘Around the Campfire’ pages, which feature chats with a number of people.

The second edition will also have a focus on fire but coming from the human side of the story. That’s where I hope you might come in.

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Climate change & fire. The more we learn, the clearer it gets

Its mid November, just a couple of weeks until the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. After a horror summer of fires across the North of the planet, fires continue to threaten communities and landscapes in many areas. This week, mandatory evacuations were announced in the area of Estes Park in Colorado, as some ski resorts in that state prepare to open. The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office announced “evacuate the area immediately and as quickly as possible. Do not delay leaving to gather belongings or make efforts to protect your home or business.” Meanwhile, the city of Denver is getting close to its record for latest First Snow of the season. And after a summer of extreme weather, the north west of North America has been hit by massive floods.

What we do know is that climate change influences wildfire now. The evidence for this is so widespread and compelling that there is really no point in even trying to argue its not a real phenomena. Here is a quick recap of some of the most recent research into climate change and wildfire.

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‘Wildfires, deforestation and global heating turn 10 Unesco forests into carbon sources’

A recent report looked into the impacts of climate change and other human activity on protected areas. It was pretty much as you would expect – these areas, protected because of their special values, are now at risk. According to various media stories (for instance this one in The Guardian) ‘Forests in at least 10 Unesco world heritage sites have become net sources of carbon since the turn of the millennium due to wildfires, deforestation and global heating’.

While this report takes a global perspective, it does contain details on two Australian systems – the Greater Blue Mountains Area and Tasmanian World Heritage Area – there are also some details relevant more broadly to protected areas in mountain areas of south eastern Australia.

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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.

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