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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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fire

20 years on from the 2003 Alpine fires.

It is 20 years since the 2003 Alpine fires tore through much of the Victorian high country.

On 8 January 2003, lightning strikes ignited 87 fires, 8 of which would join to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1939 Black Friday bushfires, burning through 60% of the Alpine National Park.

For more than 40 days, several high country townships, including Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain, were under threat from a fire that would ultimately burn 1.3 million hectares, destroying 41 homes and upwards of 9,000 livestock.

According to Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV), emergency workers and volunteers from across 35 agencies, including more than 4,000 firefighters, helped protect community, landscapes and property over that summer. There is a great set of images from the fires on the FFMV facebook page.

Since that time, fire has become more common in the high country. A lot has changed since then, both in terms of how we fight fires, and the resources we have available to do so.

Continue reading “20 years on from the 2003 Alpine fires.”

Quantifying the climate cost of the Black summer fires

We know that climate change is resulting in increased fire severity and extent in Australia’s temperate Eucalyptus forests. While Eucalyptus forest communities are generally adapted to the presence of fire and in some instances need irregular fires, as the gap between fires become shorter and fires become more severe, there are obvious biodiversity impacts. For instance, forests are already changing – especially the alpine ash and snow gums, which are in a state of decline and even ecological collapse in many parts of the high country.

There is also the question of the how carbon released during these fires adds further fuel to climate change. While the general understanding is that carbon lost to the atmosphere during a fire is drawn down again in subsequent regrowth, is climate driven fire seasons causing more carbon to be lost into the atmosphere, thereby making climate change worse?

New research (Tree mortality and carbon emission as a function of wildfire severity in south-eastern Australian temperate forests, to be published in the journal Science of the Total Environment a summary is available here) considers these issues and fills some significant gaps in our knowledge about the links between fire and its contribution to climate change.

Continue reading “Quantifying the climate cost of the Black summer fires”

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.

Continue reading “Seminar – Climate change, fire and the Victorian Alps”

Where are the old snow gums?

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 “Where are the old snow gums?”

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]

Continue reading “As the northern hemisphere burns, what are the lessons for Australia?”

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.

Continue reading “Climate change, fire and mountain environments”

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.

Continue reading “Climate change overwhelms the benefits of prescribed burning”

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.”

‘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’.”

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