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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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land management

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.

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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’”

Traditional owners concerned with plan to dump spoil in Kosciuszko National Park

Threats to the Snowy Mountains continue: Amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management have been published for public feedback, which set out the ‘desired changes’ to the area over the next 40 years (the submission timeline has now closed).

If approved, the plan would see a huge amount of development, including several thousand extra beds in resorts and new areas, occurring within this precious and fragile alpine park.

Meanwhile, Snowy Hydro pushes ahead with its plan to excavate approximately seven million cubic metres of earth for the project’s tunnels and subterranean power station.

That spoil will then be dumped on 55 hectares across four sites within Kosciuszko National Park.

Now a Traditional Owner representing the Ngarigo Nation in southern New South Wales says she has received no consultation about a plan to dump tonnes of waste spoil on her Country.

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Community views on managing bushfire risk

As governments grapple with the threat posed by climate driven fire seasons, there is an ongoing debate about the role of fuel reduction burning (also called proscribed burning). While many experts agree that fuel reduction does play an important role in fire management, it is growing increasingly ineffective as fires become more severe and more frequent due to the impacts of climate change. While planned burning (and other fuel management techniques) can alter fuel loads, it must be carefully applied to reduce the risk of bushfire.

The Victorian government is currently running a survey about attitudes in local communities about how to manage bushfire risk.

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Parks Victoria releases feral horse action plan for comment

Parks Victoria (PV) have released an updated draft action plan outlining feral horse management intentions over the next ten years.

You have until Friday 23 April to provide comment on the plan.

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Where the Water Starts

Richard Swain loves the bush and wildlife of the southern ranges of New South Wales, where he was born. Richard’s deep connection to country and skill as a river guide led him and his partner, Alison to set up Alpine River Adventures. A successful business is now threatened by low water levels in the Snowy River. They both consider climate change is impacting the environment they love.

Where the Water starts is a film that explores connection to place and the impacts of climate change and feral animals on the Snowy Mountains.

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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”

Increase in lightning strikes expected to ignite more wildfires

Lightning strikes are one of the main causes of wildfire in Australia. As the planet’s temperature warms, the frequency of lightning strikes is expected to grow with it.

Currently, lightning strikes the earth’s surface nearly eight million times a day. This number is expected to ‘dramatically increase’ as global temperatures rise, according to a study published by Science. The U.S., for example, could experience a 50% increase in the number of lightning strikes by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

This increase is already being felt in Australia and has implications for how we plan for, and fight fire. Because they start from a single point, lightning caused fires are initially small and can be easily contained before they turn into blazes, if there are ground crews or planes or helicopters available. As was shown by last summer’s fires, in a bad season, we simply don’t have enough resources to do this.

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Federal government rejects key recommendation from Royal Commission

Australia’s fires over the summer of 2019/20 were unprecedented in scale and level of destruction. Fuelled by climate change, the hottest and driest year ever recorded resulted in fires that burned through more than 17 million hectares, killed up to 3 billion animals, and affected nearly 80% of Australians. This included the tragic loss of over 450 lives from the fires and smoke.

Aerial firefighting capacity – planes and helicopters – are an essential component of Australia’s ability to respond to bushfires. This was demonstrated in the 2019-2020 bushfire season, when an unprecedented use of aircraft occurred. However last summer also showed that we simply don’t have enough aircraft to fight fires in a bad season. This puts landscapes, people, towns and houses, and fire fighters at risk.

The recent Bushfire Royal Commission report recommended the creation of a national publicly-owned aerial firefighting fleet, which can then be allocated to the states “according to greatest national need”.

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Fires hitting mountain environments around the world

Last summer, large sections of the mountains of New South Wales, Victoria and ACT were hammered by bushfire. The Emergency Leaders for Climate Action noted that: ‘Australia’s Black Summer fires over 2019 and 2020 were unprecedented in scale and levels of destruction’. 

The same terrible fires have been burning environments across the northern hemisphere through their summer. For instance, Colorado has seen its largest ever fires. Fires have burnt on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, and in the north east of the USA, a region that rarely burns. One fire chief in Maine said “this was a whole new kind of fire, this is the stuff you see out west.”

And the same forces are at play everywhere: climate change is making fire seasons more intense. The world has warmed as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment. Thankfully this awareness is now becoming part of the mainstream debate.

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A Fire Management Plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) is a World Heritage Site in Tasmania. It is one of the largest conservation areas in Australia, covering 15,800 km², or almost 20% of lutruwita/ Tasmania. It is also one of the last great expanses of temperate wilderness in the world.

In recent summer’s, significant sections of the TWWHA have been devastated by bushfires. The 2018/19 fires were especially destructive.

Fire is perhaps the greatest challenge for the management of the TWWHA, particularly in the context of climate change. With the September 2020 release by the Parks and Wildlife Service of a range of discussion papers for public comment, the state is moving towards the development of a Fire Management Plan for the TWWHA, as recommended by the 2016 report by Tony Press (Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Bushfire and Climate Change Research Project) and prescribed by the 2016 TWWHA Management Plan. 

How have the papers been received by conservationists?

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The independent review of the 2019/20 fires

Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian fire season 

After the 2019–20 Victorian fire season, the Inspector-General for Emergency Management 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’.

On 31 July 2020, Inspector-General Tony Pearce delivered his report to government on Phase 1 of the independent Inquiry. It covered ‘Community and sector preparedness for and response to the 2019–20 fire season’.  The report made a series of Observations and recommendations.  It has now been made public. The government now needs to decide how to respond to the report and the recommendations.

The take home message from the report is:

‘Measured in terms of their geographic extent, the tragic loss of life, the damage to property and infrastructure, the devastation to flora and fauna, and their overall social and political impacts, the 2019– 20 fires mark a key turning point in Australia’s relationship with fire and the environment’. 

Continue reading “The independent review of the 2019/20 fires”

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