Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps



Alpine time in Tasmania

What’s not to love about lutruwita/ Tasmania? Mild climate, wild landscapes, endless mountains, remarkable forests, wonderful rivers. If you love the higher alpine country, and rocky peaks, there is so much to do, and so many places to visit.

But compared with the high country of NSW and Victoria, you generally need to do some work to get into the alpine zones. There are few easy 2WD roads to get up high, like the tourist road up kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, the road over the Central Plateau past yingina/ the Great Lake, the Ben Lomond plateau, the road to Lake Mackenzie and so on.

But in most places you do need to walk and climb to get to treeline and above. That’s one of the things that makes these places so special. I recently had the chance to get back to Mt Rufus, a peak in the south of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair national park, which has an elegant long alpine ridge that leads to incredible views of the west, south west and central mountains.

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New book ‘WILD LIGHT’ will show case Tasmania’s landscapes

Well known Tasmanian landscape photographer Grant Dixon self-published his book WINTER LIGHT, featuring the Tasmanian mountain landscape in the winter of 2020. This book was generously-described by Paul Hoelen, NZIPP Grand Master of Photography, as possessing “some of the most exquisitely perfect production qualities I have ever seen in a landscape photography book”. Winter Light is now out of print, but Grant was inspired and encouraged to work on a second book of similar quality drawing on his other Tasmanian material.

Grant has recently announced the publication of this new book, WILD LIGHT, and it can be pre-ordered now at the pre-publication price of $85 (RRP will be $95), and he is relying on such pre-orders to make publication viable. The book will be available in November 2022.

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Here we go again: Cable car proposed for Mt Owen

In lutruwita/ Tasmania, there have been various proposals for cable cars up mountains. These include kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, above Hobart, Mt Roland in the north, and a proposed gondola to get tourists in to Dove Lake, below Cradle Mountain.

Now a new plan, put forward by a local businessman, is proposing a cable car up Mt Owen, a rugged mountain near Queenstown on the west coast.

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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.

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Climate change driven fire threatens Tasmania’s forests

While the summer of 2021/22 has been a mild fire season in the east of the country, there have been a small number of significant fires in lutruwita/ Tasmania that have threatened World Heritage Areas (including one that threatened an incredibly significant Huon pine forest). This is because the west of that state has been experiencing a prolonged and extreme drought, with some areas receiving their lowest rainfall on record.

As reported recently in The Conversation, “this drought fits an observed drying trend across the state, which will worsen due to climate change. This is very bad news for the ancient wilderness in the state’s World Heritage Area, where the lineage of some tree species stretch back 150 million years to the supercontinent Gondwana’.

The drying trend has seen a steady increase in bushfires ignited by lightning, imperilling the survival of Tasmania’s Gondwanan legacy, and raising profound fire management challenges.’ Continue reading “Climate change driven fire threatens Tasmania’s forests”

Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association calls for halt on developments within World Heritage Areas

The South Coast Track travels 85k m from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek along the coastline of south western lutruwita/ Tasmania. It traverses wild beaches and mountains and feels like one of the most remote places on earth. The landscape that the track passes through is a part of the massive Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) that protects most of the south west of the state.

As part of the state government’s agenda to see more private development within World Heritage and national parks, a seven-day guided walk has been proposed for the South Coast Track, which would include six walkers’ privately operated huts built.

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Fires in Tasmanian World Heritage Areas

Back in 2019, Tasmania/ lutruwita was badly impacted by wildfires (check here for a diary of those fires). With much of south eastern Australia experiencing a La Nina mild summer, the forecast is for a ‘mild’ season across most of the south east.

But following lightning storms over the weekend of December 18 and 19, 2021, a number of fires have started in remote World Heritage Areas in Tasmania/ lutruwita. It has been noted that since the year 2000, there has been an increase in the number of lightning-caused fires and an increase in the average size of the fires in Tasmania, “resulting in a marked increase in the area burnt”.

This page will track significant fires on public lands in Tasmania during the summer of 2021/22.

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A Rifle Range on Maggs Mountain?

Many remote area walkers and fishers access the Central Plateau of Tasmania/lutruwita via the Mersey Forest and Maggs Roads, which lead to the trailheads for places like the Walls of Jerusalem, Arm River Track, Chalice Lake and Cathedral Mountain, etc.

There is a proposal to place a high powered rifle range on top of Maggs Mountain (900m), which is located above Lake Rowallan and across the valley from Clumner Bluff to the east and the February Plains to the west.

Meander Valley Council needs to decide whether to grant approval. You have until 5pm on Monday 29 November to put in a submission expressing your view on the proposal.

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‘Wildfires, deforestation and global heating turn 10 Unesco forests into carbon sources’

A recent report looked into the impacts of climate change and other human activity on protected areas. It was pretty much as you would expect – these areas, protected because of their special values, are now at risk. According to various media stories (for instance this one in The Guardian) ‘Forests in at least 10 Unesco world heritage sites have become net sources of carbon since the turn of the millennium due to wildfires, deforestation and global heating’.

While this report takes a global perspective, it does contain details on two Australian systems – the Greater Blue Mountains Area and Tasmanian World Heritage Area – there are also some details relevant more broadly to protected areas in mountain areas of south eastern Australia.

Continue reading “‘Wildfires, deforestation and global heating turn 10 Unesco forests into carbon sources’”

Progress on a fire management plan for the TAS World Heritage Area

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) is one of the largest conservation areas in Australia, covering 15,800 km², or almost 25% of lutruwita/ Tasmania. It contains huge areas of wild landscape.

Sadly, fire is a huge threat to many vegetation communities in the TWWHA which are fire sensitive, particularly in the context of a changing climate.

We know that climate change fueled fire regimes threaten the TWWHA. For instance, the amount of vegetation burnt by fires caused by lightning strikes in Tasmania’s world heritage area has increased dramatically this century, according to research led by the University of Tasmania.

Following public consultation in 2020, plans for managing fire in the TWWHA are being developed. The Tasmanian National Parks Association (TNPA) says ‘we are pleased to see belated progress towards the development of a Fire Management Plan for the TWWHA’.

Continue reading “Progress on a fire management plan for the TAS World Heritage Area”

Tourism & outdoor industry stands up for forests

The forests of north east Tasmania are like nowhere else on Earth. From the glacial refugia forests of the Blue Tier holding the tallest flowering plants on earth, to the Gondwanic remnant forests around the Blue Derby mountain bike trails, these forests are under increasing threat from logging.

The campaign to protect these forests in recent times has been driven by locals involved in ecotourism and outdoor adventures like mountain bike riding. It has been a great example of people standing up for the places that they love.

Last week, more than 160 other tourism bodies, signed an open letter to the State Premier, the Minister for Tourism, Hospitality and Events and the Minister for Climate Change regarding the economic and environmental implications of logging carbon-rich Gondwana remnant forests in the North-East of Tasmania. These forests are within proximity of the world-famous Blue Derby bike tracks.

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Fire risk declines as forests get older

There is a long debate about whether logging tall wet Eucalypt forests increases or decreases the flammability of forests. On an intuitive level, it makes sense that allowing forests to become older will make them less flammable: over time the understorey thins out, the canopy closes in and creates a moister micro climate, and fire is less likely to climb up into the crown. In contrast, an area that has been logged will be filled with dense regrowth of highly flammable saplings and be exposed to the drying effect of sun and wind.

This is confirmed on a regular basis by research. New work considers the two common models which are used to describe how fire risk changes over time as the forest grows. The models are the ‘moisture model’, where fire risk initially increases, then decreases, as a stand develops after a fire, and the ‘Olson model’, where fire risk increases as a function of time since previous fire.

This new report – called Fire risk and severity decline with stand development in Tasmanian giant Eucalyptus forest – suggests that the ‘moisture model’ is correct in tall wet forests, and that over time fire risk is reduced.

Continue reading “Fire risk declines as forests get older”

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