Sunday 31 January 2016

Devastation in Tasmania's World Heritage forests

At the moment words completely fail me. To call this a tragedy would be to vastly understate things

Tasmania fires: First images of World Heritage Area devastation emerge, show signs of 'system collapse'

Burned trees and blackened ground in a Tasmania WHA  


31 January, 2016

The first images to emerge from within Tasmania's fire-affected World Heritage Area (WHA) have illustrated the level of destruction caused by bushfire, as experts warn such incidents are signs of a changing climate.

Key points:

  • 11,000 hectares of WHA are incinerated by the Tasmania bushfires
  • Wildlife, including wallabies and wombats, also affected
  • Experts say parts of the Central Plateau will not recover
  • Fire ecologist says the fires are a sign of climate change

Many fires continue to burn around the state, ignited by lightning strikes. Some are in remote areas including Tasmania's Central Plateau, within the WHA.

Wilderness photographer and bushwalker Dan Broun has just returned from one part of Tasmania's world heritage wilderness recently hit by fire.

Vision he filmed shows how the fires have raced through Tasmania's Central Plateau, home to unique alpine flora including pencil pines, king billy pines and cushion plants, some more than 1,000 years old.

Mr Broun walked four hours into the bushfire affected areas on Saturday.
"The scene is complete and utter devastation. There is kilometres of burnt ground, everything is dead," he said.

He said small pockets of areas protected by rock escaped the fire.
"I also witnessed devastated wildlife burnt wallabies and dead wombats, wallabies and the like," said Mr Broun.

The Lake Mackenzie fires have been burning in the Central Plateau for 11 days. About 11,000 hectares of WHA have been incinerated.

Some areas can recover from fire, while others, including the habitat of pencil pines, cannot.

"What I'm most keen about with my wildlife photography and this particular vision is that we de-myth this whole situation. These are unique and vulnerable plant communities," he said.

"We need for people to understand that this is not a natural event."

Ecologist Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick is also upset by the loss of alpine flora.

"They're killed by fire and they don't come back," said Professor Kirkpatrick.

"It's a species that would have been around in the cretaceous period. It's regarded as one of the main reasons for listing Tasmania as a world heritage area."

'This is what climate change looks like', fire ecologist says

Fire ecologist David Bowman said the fires burning in Tasmania were a sign of climate change.

"This is bigger than us. This is what climate change looks like, this is what scientists have been telling people, this is system collapse."

Professor Bowman said it was a difficult situation for firefighters.

"You can't expect emergency services to just be able to do magic," he said.

"If you're dealing with fires on such an immense scale geographically, in such hostile terrain and burning in the ground, you have to prioritise.

"Budgets will be stretched and more money is needed."

Tasmanian Senator Nick McKim argued federal and state governments had ignored the science.

"Warnings have been given by the conservation movement that climate change is showing that there's going to be an increase in dry lightning strikes," Senator McKim said.

"This has been foreseeable, unfortunately, and yet we saw quite a lag time between those fires starting on the 13th of January and resources being thrown at them."
The head of the Tasmania Fire Service, Chief Officer Gavin Freeman, disagrees.

"We have absolute support from the State Government to get whatever resources we need and our interstate colleagues have offered whatever resources we need," he said.

"More resources, right at the moment, is not going to help us much, because trying to get into those areas, particularly when we have a day like today where visibility is poor and we can't fly people in, more resources or more firefighters would just be sitting in a staging area not being able to do anything."

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