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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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climate change

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”

Citizen science project: tracking loss of Snow Gums

As we know, Snow Gums face a massive threat from the spread of dieback which is caused by a native beetle, but which is now being super charged by climate change.

There is another emerging issue: localised collapse of snow gum woodlands due to more frequent fires.

Friends of the Earth recently released a report called An Icon at Risk: current and emerging threats to the Victorian Alps (available here), which points out that climate driven fires are starting to lead to localised collapse of Snow Gum woodlands where regular fires have caused death of parent trees and seedlings.

These forests are fire adapted and can recover from fire. But the dilemma we face is that , since the turn of the 21st century, fires are becoming more frequent and pushing this vegetation community towards ecological collapse.

No one knows the scale of this problem.

That’s where you come in.

Continue reading “Citizen science project: tracking loss of Snow Gums”

‘High-risk bushfire days set to soar this century’

There is no doubt that climate change is driving more intense fire seasons. The world has warmed as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment. We have known this for years. Back in 2008 the Garnaut Climate Change Review’s final report, said that predictions “suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense” and that “this effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020.”

New research by the CFA and Bureau of Meteorology underscores this fact yet again.

Continue reading “‘High-risk bushfire days set to soar this century’”

The IPCC report – what does it mean for mountain environments?

The long awaited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Report has now been released.

As expected, it is an urgent wake up call to our political leaders to actually start to take decisive action to tackle the climate crisis. While the information is not really ‘new’, it does remind us of the incredible urgency of taking climate action. Now.

The IPCC says ‘many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion – such as continued sea level rise – are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years’.

However, they do remind us that ‘strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change’. So let’s get to it.

What are the implications for mountain lovers in this new report?

Continue reading “The IPCC report – what does it mean for mountain environments?”

Skiing in the Pyrocene (*)

It was probably a year ago that I saw this photo in Powder magazine. It broke my heart to think that an image of a skier making lines through burnt forest is now just a regular thing in the times that we live in.

The other day I was out pottering around, aiming to ski to Mt Tabletop near Mt Hotham, taking advantage of the excellent snow base at present. I skied out along JB Plain and cut into the trees to the edge of the 2020 fire, then decided to follow the open terrain down on the south side of the escarpment, onto a steepening slope that ended where the Alpine Ash started to dominate. Its early August but it felt like spring: forgiving granular corn, south facing slopes, mellow turns. Doing wide loops through the dead trees, looking out to the Dargo High Plains, I felt at home in these mountains that I love. This used to be thick regrowth forest and you never would have thought of skiing here. But now its open, and with a good cover, its enjoyable moderate terrain. The Ash are dead, as are a lot of the Snow Gums.

Continue reading “Skiing in the Pyrocene (*)”

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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Getting ready for the next Big One

As Victoria shivers through a good, old fashioned winter, it might be a strange time to be thinking about fire. But next fire season will be with us soon enough, and there are some lessons for us from the horror summer currently being experienced in the northern hemisphere.

A 1.5 million hectare bushfire is raging in Siberia, and Alaska is burning. So are large parts of Turkey. The ‘heat dome’ that brought record breaking temperatures to the Pacific North West of North America has been followed by a fire season comparable with what we experienced over the terrible summer of 2019/20. California is experiencing a fire season that started in their winter. In January, Issac Sanchez, of Cal Fire Sacramento said “we’re not seeing ‘fire season’ any more. It’s just one big fire year, where we can be prepared for and expect a large destructive fire at any point.”

Continue reading “Getting ready for the next Big One”

Protect Our Winters Australia film screening: Purple Mountains

Snowboarder and environmentalist Jeremy Jones embarks on a mission to raise awareness about climate change.

His film Purple Mountains is being screened in Bright as part of the 2021 Victorian Backcountry Festival, which will happen in and around Mt Hotham resort over September 3, 4 and 5. Join festival sponsors Bright Brewery for a free screening of ‘Purple Mountains’ inside the brewery.

Continue reading “Protect Our Winters Australia film screening: Purple Mountains”

Lessons from the Tasmanian fires of 2018/19: state has entered a ‘new era of bushfire risk’

Over the summer of 2018/19 huge fires burnt across Tasmania. An independent review of Tasmania’s management of the summer bushfires was released in August 2019. It found inadequacies in the response to the fire burning near Geeveston, and revealed that crews withdrew from the Gell River fire in Tasmania’s southwest in the mistaken belief it was out. The fire then expanded again and became out of control.

The report made a series of recommendations

Now, a comprehensive study examining the 2018/19 and the experience of authorities and affected groups by Insurance Group Zurich has found that the state has entered a ‘new era of bushfire risk’.

“Since the turn of the millennium, climate change and land use change have converged to bring about a new fire regime in Tasmania,” Zurich’s first Australian Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) report said.

More than two thousand dry lightning strikes hit the state during that summer, igniting 70 fires that formed into four massive fire complexes. Over 95,000 hectares of protected land was burnt.

Continue reading “Lessons from the Tasmanian fires of 2018/19: state has entered a ‘new era of bushfire risk’”

Major new developments planned for Kosciuszko National Park

The New South Wales government has released its 40-year plan to turn the Snowy Mountains into a ‘year-round tourist destination’. The draft Special Activation Precinct plan outlines options for future growth in and around Jindabyne.

The public is encouraged to submit feedback on the draft plan by mid-August. Amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management have also been released for public feedback. This proposes substantial new developments within the Kosciuszko National Park. It is also open for public comment.

Continue reading “Major new developments planned for Kosciuszko National Park”

It’s getting hot in here

Australian skiers, boarders and other snow lovers know that our snowpack is often pretty erratic. Last winter saw ‘boom and bust’ snow events then heavy rain that destroyed the base. We all know the misery of rain and drizzle when it should be snowing.

We know that because of climate change, our snow pack has been in decline since the 1950s.

Without serious action on the global scale to reduce emissions, we will see more and more winters like 2020: erratic, sketchy snowpack and lots of rain events.

Continue reading “It’s getting hot in here”

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