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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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snow gums

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”

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”

Documenting loss of Snow Gums in the VIC Alps

The recent The IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report included details about the threat posed by climate change to Snow Gum woodlands (story here). Mountain Journal has been recording the local loss of Snow Gum woodlands across the Australian high country for several years now.

In a welcome sign, the last two summers have been mild and wet, and this has led to reseeding in some previously burnt areas of Snow Gums after years of no growth. However almost every trip to the higher mountains reveals new areas that have been burnt to the point of ecological collapse.

Continue reading “Documenting loss of Snow Gums in the VIC Alps”

IPCC report points to collapse of Alpine Ash and Snowgum woodland

The IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report has just been released (and is available here).

The take home message is:

Further climate change is inevitable, with the rate and magnitude of impact largely dependent on the emission reduction pathways that we choose. Time is running out if we want to act.

The final sentence of new IPCC report is: “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

The Chapter on Australasia (available here) has a considerable amount of detail on likely impacts on mountain areas of south eastern Australia and lutruwita/ Tasmania. Some of these are summarised below. It looks at both observed impacts and predicted future impacts (applying a level of certainty to each of these).

Continue reading “IPCC report points to collapse of Alpine Ash and Snowgum woodland”

Yet another warning that we need to act now to protect forests from climate change-driven fire

According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program and environmental not-for-profit organisation GRID-Arendal, as climate change continues to destablise global weather patterns, we can expect up to 50% more wildfires by the turn of the century.

This will impact on us locally and the mountain forests we love.

One example of this is Alpine Ash forests, which have been heavily impacted by fire in recent decades. The same threats are starting to cause local collapse of Snow Gum woodlands.

Continue reading “Yet another warning that we need to act now to protect forests from climate change-driven fire”

‘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.

Continue reading “‘Citizen science’ field trip investigates loss of Snow Gums”

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.

Continue reading “Time is running out for mountain woodlands”

Snow Gum citizen science field trip – January 2022

Snow Gums face a massive threat from the spread of dieback which is caused by a native beetle – and also super charged by climate change, and localised collapse of snow gum woodlands due to more frequent fires.

Last winter Friends of the Earth (FoE) published An Icon at Risk, which considers the many threats to the mountains of north east Victoria (the report is available here).

FoE will be hosting a field trip to map impacts of fire over four days in January 2022 in the Mt Hotham region.

Continue reading “Snow Gum citizen science field trip – January 2022”

Help identify and report Snow Gum dieback

Snow gums are experiencing dieback in Kosciuszko National Park, largely because of the impacts of the native longicorn (or ‘longhorn’) beetle. These beetles prefer to lay their eggs on moisture-stressed trees and, in warmer weather, the longicorn beetle can hatch and grow up to 75% faster. It is understood that climate change is helping the spread of dieback because of background warming.

Now dieback is being seen more frequently in the mountain forests of Victoria.

Jessica Ward-Jones, a PhD student at the Fenner school, is part of a group researching snow-gum dieback, and is asking for people visiting the mountains to send in details of sightings of dieback affected trees.

Continue reading “Help identify and report Snow Gum dieback”

Mt Pinnibar fires part of a bigger pattern

Mt Pinnibar (1,772 metres asl) is a lovely mountain in the far north east of Victoria, up above the Tom Groggin station in the Upper Murray Valley. On a clear day it has spectacular views of the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains.

Sadly it has also been devastated by bushfire. Most recently it was hit by fire during the horror summer of 2019/20.

The following images were taken in mid September 2021 by Trevor Staats and were originally published in the Australian Backcountry facebook group.

Continue reading “Mt Pinnibar fires part of a bigger pattern”

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”

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