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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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Victorian Alps

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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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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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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Across the Alps with Ferdinand von Mueller

Ferdinand von Mueller was Victoria’s first government botanist. He travelled extensively through the Australian Alps during the 1850s and collected more than 200 species of plants from the mountains, at least a. third of which had not been recorded before by Europeans.

I recently discovered an old report by Linden Gillbank, called Alpine Botanical Expeditions of Ferdinand Mueller (1991) and available here on the Royal Botanic Gardens website, which gives a fascinating insight into the mountains in the mid 19th century. As Linden notes, his letters and reports are very light on in terms of describing the routes he took and the people he travelled with, however they provide some beautiful descriptions of mountain landscapes and flora.

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Victoria’s alpine resort management boards to be merged into Alpine Resorts Victoria

The Andrews government has announced the establishment of a new management structure for Victoria’s alpine resorts.

Alpine Resorts Victoria – set to start work by July 2022 – is intended to ‘make Alpine Boards more efficient’. It will be created by merging Victoria’s four alpine resort management boards, and will govern Falls Creek, Mt Hotham, Mt Buller, Mt Stirling, Lake Mountain and Mt Baw Baw resorts.

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‘A dire wake-up call’

Leading scientists working across Australia and Antarctica have described 19 ecosystems that are collapsing due to the impact of humans and warned urgent action is required to prevent their complete loss.

groundbreaking report – the result of work by 38 scientists from 29 universities and government agencies – details the degradation of coral reefs, arid outback deserts, tropical savanna, the waterways of the Murray-Darling Basin, mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and forests stretching from the rainforests of the far north to Gondwana-era conifers in Tasmania.

The scientists recommended a new framework to try to prevent ecosystems collapsing completely that they called the “3As”. It would require a greater awareness of the value of ecosystems, better planning to anticipate risks and rapid action to reduce them.

The report is titled Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic.

What does this mean for mountain environments?

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Forest refuges under threat from logging

new report based on analysis of maps and data from the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires has revealed that significant areas of unburnt forests critical for bushfire affected wildlife are set to be logged by the Victorian Government. This includes areas in the Victorian high country.

The report was produced by a range of groups, including Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) and the Victorian National Parks Association.

GECO says ‘These and other important areas are still scheduled for logging, when they need to be protected. Take action and email decision makers to drop logging plans and protect forests and wildlife’.

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Ghost Forests of the High Country

Over 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has been burned at least once since 2003. Some areas have been burnt multiple times, and this is impacting on the ability of these forests to recover. Like other Eucalypts, Snow Gums are fire adapted and can recover via new seedlings or regrowth from the base of the tree. However, repeated fires within a short period of time can kill the parent forest and destroy seedlings.

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Subalpine forests struggle to recover after 2019-20 bushfires

The Bushfire Recovery Project, led by five scientists, is tracking forest regrowth in NSW and Victoria after last summer’s fires, using data gathered by citizen scientists.

Their report has found that while low elevation forests on the NSW south coast appear to be recovering well, forests in some subalpine areas ‘near Mount Kosciuszko and in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are struggling to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires’.

This is consistent with everything we already know about the impact of climate driven fire seasons on the higher elevation Alpine Ash forests and Snow Gum woodlands.

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What does the Victorian budget provide for mountain environments?

We know that the mountains we love face an existential threat from climate change: less snow, more fire, less streamflow are all starting to transform vegetation communities and the look and feel of mountain environments.

The Victorian state government released it’s budget for 2020/21 yesterday. Apart from the welcome climate and energy measures (which will help the state to play its part in reducing its contribution to further climate change), there are a number of allocations that are relevant to mountain environments.

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Dhudhuroa stories of the mountains, valleys and rivers

Jida Gulpilil is a proud Dhudhuroa man and in coming months will be sharing his stories of the mountains, valleys and rivers that make up his mother’s Country of the Dhudhuroa in the north east Victorian Alps. 

Jida says:

‘These sites are incredibly important to our people and need to be protected and our stories shared. Therefore, we encourage you to come a walk with us to grow a greater understanding and respect of our sites and places, culture and language, customs and ceremonies that all connect us to our totems and biodiversity. 

‘Give yourself the opportunity to truly understand this natural and cultural landscape from our perspective that will help to protect our waterways and landscapes for many more generations.

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We need a national aerial firefighting fleet to protect mountain environments

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 landscape, people, towns and houses, and fire fighters at risk.

Continue reading “We need a national aerial firefighting fleet to protect mountain environments”

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