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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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environment

Launch of ‘Where the Water Starts’

The film Where The Water Starts aims to reveal how the fragile alpine region of the Snowy Mountains, particularly Kosciuszko National Park, is seen by a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who were born or live in the southern mountains area, or who care deeply about it.

The launch of this important film will happen on Thursday October 28th at 6.30pm followed by Q&A with

  • Richard Swain, Indigenous Ambassador with the Invasive Species Council,
  • Professor David Watson, Environmental Scientist, and
  • the filmmakers, Mandy King & Fabio Cavadini

Continue reading “Launch of ‘Where the Water Starts’”

Giving back to the Alps

Most of Australia’s High Country is now protected in parks. While there are significant pressures on many of these – for instance plans for a major expansion of commercial development in Kosciuszko national park, and tourism development in wild areas in lutruwita/ Tasmania – there is also the existential threat posed by climate change.

On a day to day basis our parks are generally underfunded and so the Parks Services struggle to deal with invasive species and the impacts of tourism. We need to increase funding across the board for our parks services.

There are also many options to directly support the ecological integrity of our mountain areas through hands on volunteer work. As author Alice Walker puts it nicely, ‘Activism is my rent for living on the planet’, and there are many ways to get involved in hands on efforts in and around the Alps. Here are a few ideas.

Continue reading “Giving back to the Alps”

Ecological recovery in Namadgi National Park

In January and February 2020, the Orroral Valley Fire burnt more than 80% of Namadgi National Park in the ACT, leaving large areas blackened and apparently lifeless.

Monitoring the recovery of Namadgi National Park from the Orroral Valley fire has occurred since the fire. This is managed by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate within the Department of Environment, Heritage and Water. They have just released a great visual report on the recovery of animals and vegetation communities in the park. It is mostly good news.

The report is available here.

Some highlights from the report:

Many Candle Bark forests and Snow Gums are recovering quite well.

The rate of recovery appears to be strongly affected by moisture availability.

Wetter sites, such as Snow Gum woodland near Mt Franklin Road, are recovering faster. Snow Gums on drier and rockier sites are demonstrating less recovery.

One exception to the general pattern of good recovery is Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis), which is killed by intense fire and must regenerate from seed.

It is uncertain how well Alpine Ash will recover after two intense fires only 18 years apart; Conservation Research ecologists are currently assessing the degree of fire impact and the extent of recovery in Namadgi’s Alpine Ash forests.

Fortunately, some important stands of Alpine Ash were not affected by the Orroral Valley fire. A total of 2,415 ha, or 33% of the Alpine Ash forest in Namadgi, did not burn in 2020.

Some species can benefit from burning.

By killing shrubs, removing leaf litter and creating areas of bare ground, the fire resulted in ideal conditions for the germination of short-lived herbs and grasses.

Billy buttons (Craspedia sp.) covered the burnt slopes of Mt Gingera in November. Later they faded and set seed, to be replaced by other brightly-coloured species. By February, bluebells and paper daisies (Xerochrysum spp.) were the dominant flowers.

We may not see another flowering event like this for years or decades.

How are fauna populations recovering?

Although the fire took a heavy toll on animals, many survived, either in unburnt or lightly-burnt patches or by taking shelter beneath the ground.

The first teams onto the fire ground found a surprising number of birds (click unmute background audio to listen), mammals, invertebrates, frogs and reptiles,

Preliminary results are encouraging. The burnt areas of Namadgi still ring with an impressive array of singing birds.

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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Dead forests making bushfires worse

We know that climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense. This is happening globally. It has enormous implications for the landscapes that we love, how we prepare for and fight fires, and even how we live in fire prone areas.

These fires are transforming the landscapes we know and love. Anyone who has driven out of Jindabyne into the Snowy Mountains, or Mt Beauty towards the Bogong High Plains knows what I am talking about – endless walls of grey, dead trees. Only 0.47% of old growth Alpine Ash still exists in Victoria. This has huge implications for the aesthetics of our mountain areas, and significant ecological implications.

Increased fire frequency could see mountain forests like Alpine Ash replaced by wattle woodlands. As recently noted by Brett McNamara, the manager of Namadgi National Park:

Recovery happens but it is “tainted with a sense of what does the future hold for us if we are to experience fire again and again with such intensity. This is where the question is unanswered. What these mountains will look like well into the future?”

The huge volumes of dead trees from previous fires also creates a lot of fuel that is already dry and hence ready to burn in future fires. What are the implications of this for our fire fighting and land management efforts?

Continue reading “Dead forests making bushfires worse”

What’s your Big Idea for climate action?

The Victorian government is required to prepare and rollout a climate strategy every five years out to 2050. However, because of the C-19 pandemic, it is well behind schedule, so the Friends of the Earth Act on Climate collective has launched a push to write a People’s Climate Strategy for Victoria and is seeking your Big Idea that Victoria could take to act on climate.

It can be something to rein in emissions or protect the community from climate impacts. What could be done in mountain areas and surrounding towns?

There has long been a plan for a wind turbine at Mt Hotham. There have been several bulk buy programs to get solar panels onto houses and businesses at Hotham and Dinner Plain. What about micro hydro power in ski resorts? Or protecting the carbon dense forests of the Victorian Central Highlands? Running ski resort lift operations on 100% renewable energy? Using electric rather than diesel buses in ski resorts. Or building bushfire refugees in mountain communities?

What’s your big idea that will be good for climate change and good for the mountains?

  Continue reading “What’s your Big Idea for climate action?”

Barilaro calls for horse removal from Kosciuszko National Park to stop

Wild horses, along with other feral species, have inflicted enormous damage on the alpine and sub alpine environments of the Snowy Mountains for decades.

There has been a long campaign to have numbers of horses reduced, which has been resisted by people who claim the horses have a ‘cultural’ claim to be in the mountains. In a significant development, in February 2020, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean announced emergency post-bushfire measures aimed at reducing horse numbers in three areas in northern Kosciuszko that are being damaged by horses – Boggy/Kiandra, Nungar and Cooleman plains.

This was done with the support from NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro. However, now Mr Barilaro has reneged in his support for bushfire emergency horse removal measures, calling for horse removal from Kosciuszko National Park to stop.

Continue reading “Barilaro calls for horse removal from Kosciuszko National Park to stop”

‘Mega’ fires more frequent in Victoria

In Victoria, the frequency of ‘mega’ fires (those greater than 100,000 hectares) has grown significantly over the past century.

  • 19th century – 2 mega fires
  • first half of 20th Century – 4 mega fires
  • 2nd half of 20th century – 7 mega fires
  • In the first 20 years of the 21st century – at least 8 mega fires

This is in spite of the huge advances we have made in fire fighting technology over the past 50 years.

Continue reading “‘Mega’ fires more frequent in Victoria”

Logging increases fire risk

For those willing to look, the evidence has been available for years: logging increases fire severity. Industry advocates continue to claim that ‘logging reduces fire risk’. But it should be obvious to any impartial observer that ‘removing large established trees actually increases the amount of flammable fuel, with unshaded stumps and new-grown saplings dried out by the sun and wind serving as ‘kindling’ for the flames’.

This has been backed up again by range of prominent scientists.

Continue reading “Logging increases fire risk”

A 170 km long firebreak in East Gippsland?

The ABC is reporting that ‘fire-affected communities in eastern Victoria are calling for a permanent firebreak running 170 kilometres along both sides of the Princes Highway to the New South Wales border’.

Continue reading “A 170 km long firebreak in East Gippsland?”

What mountain species were impacted by last summer’s fires?

We know how devastating last summer’s fires were on local economies across the country. The ecological impact becomes ever more clearly understood, although some on ground research has been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February 2020, the Federal Environment Department released an initial list of threatened ecological communities which have more than 10% of their estimated distribution in areas affected by bushfires in southern and eastern Australia between 1 July 2019 and 11 February 2020. What are the known impacts in mountain environments?

Continue reading “What mountain species were impacted by last summer’s fires?”

Work starts on Snowy Hydro 2.0 ‘Segment Factory’

Back in 2017, the Federal Government announced a feasibility study into the possible expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the Snowy Mountains of NSW (‘Snowy Hydro 2.0’).  It was billed as being a circuit breaker in the ‘fossil fuels vs renewables’ energy debate because it would be renewable energy that will provide baseload capacity. The project would greatly enhance the pumped hydro capacity of the existing hydro scheme, meaning that water can be used multiple times to produce electricity.

While some environmentalists gave in principle support to the project, many wanted to see the details on what the physical environmental impacts of the project would be. Since then, as the environmental impacts of the project became more obvious, the movement became increasingly opposed.

Recently, a group of energy experts called on the state and federal governments to stop work on the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project.

It has also been reported that the next stage of the Snowy Hydro 2.0 expansion has been given the green light, with approval for construction of the project’s ‘Segment Factory’.

Work has now started on the facility: Snowy Hydro has already started clearing native bushland for the construction site at Lobs Hole in the heart of Kosciuszko National Park.

The NSW National Parks Association says ‘This is just the beginning. Snowy 2.0 will permanently destroy 1000’s of hectares of Kosciuszko, and dump 20 million tonnes of contaminated tunnel spoil, the equivalent of covering Sydney Harbour Bridge and its surrounds’.

The NSW Minister Planning, Rob Stokes, and NSW Minister for the Environment and Energy Matt Kean is expected to make their final decision on approvals for the project ‘any day’.

Check here for additional information on the project from the NSW National Parks Association (NSW NPA).

Take Action

The NSW NPA is asking people to send a letter to the NSW government urging them to not sign off on final environmental approvals.

 

 

 

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