Australia Forest Loss “Unprecedented”

January 19, 2020

Video above – this fire fighting thing could get expensive.

Associated Press:

Australia’s forests are burning at a rate unmatched in modern times and scientists say the landscape is being permanently altered as a warming climate brings profound changes to the island continent.

Heat waves and drought have fueled bigger and more frequent fires in parts of Australia, so far this season torching some 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers), an area about as big as Ohio.

With blazes still raging in the country’s southeast, government officials are drawing up plans to reseed burned areas to speed up forest recovery that could otherwise take decades or even centuries.

But some scientists and forestry experts doubt that reseeding and other intervention efforts can match the scope of the destruction. The fires since September have killed 28 people and burned more than 2,600 houses.

Before the recent wildfires, ecologists divided up Australia’s native vegetation into two categories: fire-adapted landscapes that burn periodically, and those that don’t burn. In the recent fires, that distinction lost meaning — even rainforests and peat swamps caught fire, likely changing them forever. 

Flames have blazed through jungles dried out by drought, such as Eungella National Park, where shrouds of mist have been replaced by smoke. 

“Anybody would have said these forests don’t burn, that there’s not enough material and they are wet. Well they did,” said forest restoration expert Sebastian Pfautsch, a research fellow at Western Sydney University. 

“Climate change is happening now, and we are seeing the effects of it,” he said.

High temperatures, drought and more frequent wildfires — all linked to climate change — may make it impossible for even fire-adapted forests to be fully restored, scientists say. 

“The normal processes of recovery are going to be less effective, going to take longer,” said Roger Kitching, an ecologist at Griffith University in Queensland. “Instead of an ecosystem taking a decade, it may take a century or more to recover, all assuming we don’t get another fire season of this magnitude soon.” 

Young stands of mountain ash trees — which are not expected to burn because they have minimal foliage — have burned in the Australian Alps, the highest mountain range on the continent. Fire this year wiped out stands re-seeded following fires in 2013.

Mountain ash, the world’s tallest flowering trees, reach heights of almost 90 meters (300 feet) and live hundreds of years. They’re an iconic presence in southeast Australia, comparable to the redwoods of Northern California, and are highly valued by the timber industry.

“I’m expecting major areas of (tree) loss this year, mainly because we will not have sufficient seed to sow them,” said Owen Bassett of Forest Solutions, a private company that works with government agencies to re-seed forests by helicopter following fires.

Bassett plans to send out teams to climb trees in parts of Victoria that did not burn to harvest seed pods. But he expects to get at most a ton of seeds this year, about one-tenth of what he said is needed.

Fire is a normal part of an ash forest life cycle, clearing out older stands to make way for new growth. But the extent and intensity of this year’s fires left few surviving trees in many areas.

Already ash forests in parts of Victoria had been hit by wildfire every four to five years, allowing less marketable tree species to take over or meadows to form.

“If a young ash forest is burned and killed and we can’t resow it, then it is lost,” Bassett said.

The changing landscape has major implications for Australia’s diverse wildlife. The fires in Eungella National Park, for example, threaten “frogs and reptiles that don’t live anywhere else,” said University of Queensland ecologist Diana Fisher.

Fires typically burn through the forest in a patchwork pattern, leaving unburned refuges from which plant and animal species can spread. However, the megafires raging in parts of Australia are consuming everything in their path and leaving little room for that kind of recovery, said Griffith University’s Kitching. 

In both Australia and western North America, climate experts say, fires will continue burning with increased frequency as warming temperatures and drier weather transform ecosystems around the globe.

The catastrophic scale of blazes in so many places offers the “clearest signal yet” that climate change is driving fire activity, said Leroy Westerling, a fire science professor at the University of Alberta.

“It’s in Canada, California, Greece, Portugal, Australia,” Westerling said. “This portends what we can expect — a new reality. I prefer not to use the term ‘new normal’… This is more like a downward spiral.”

6 Responses to “Australia Forest Loss “Unprecedented””

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    From the 1950s, within my memory. There were always bushfires with catastrophic events maybe a decade apart in single states. Fire fighters went in with a tank of water on their back with a hand pump. Otherwise with sacking strips on the end of a pole. Today they are equipped with purpose built trucks and big planes. Yet the fires are worse, more frequent and over multiple states. Caused by extra heat!
    Public apologists, with alternate excuses, are deniers equivalent to holocaust deniers.
    Note: Liberal in Oz means right wing.

    • redskylite Says:

      Well stated Sir; indeed the apologists are equivalent to those wicked holocaust deniers. Not many people (if any at all , apart from N.Z’s Ken Ring) tried to justify continuing with CFCs when they were proven to be responsible for destroying Earth’s protective ozone layer, which were more or less successfully banned with the Montreal protocol. Year after year, decade after decade denial on fossil fuel’s harmful GHG emission affects is manufactured by industrial interest and greed, with complete lack of concern for the increased death, wanton destruction and misery which is now unfolding. The monthly atmospheric CO2 statistics show no sign of improving, if anything the increase is accelerating, sadly leading us all onto the highway to hell.

    • kookaburra2 Says:

      I remember those backpacks. When filled they were heavy and ungainly especially on mountainous terrain. However, in a group they could be quite effective on spot fires especially in remote areas. The best thing about them was a cooling drench when getting them refilled from the tanker truck. I think those guys did it on purpose to cool us down.

  2. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Leased aircraft were fine when the fire seasons in the US and Australia had a gap, slowly that gap disappeared. Now as they say in the video the seasons overlap.

  3. redskylite Says:

    “Prolonged drought and other effects of climate change are pushing the duck-billed platypus, one of Australia’s most unique species, towards extinction, scientists warned in a study published Monday.”

  4. Paul Whyte Says:

    With the best science giving predictions of what has unfolded now for the last 40 years. The politics that is played like football where one roots for one’s team to win is having a moment where the end of a habitable landmass is not able to be discussed publicly until after it has happened and there is no way back.

    The end of parliamentary discussion about climate change, what needs to be done about it and so intern a discussion in public about the future of civilisation.

    Has all the hallmarks of a group of crims trying to maintain their patch by stand over tactics.

    At some point breaking free of criminal negligence that leads to death and destruction needs to be treated as the crime that it is. Taken to court and damages to be sued for.

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