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New Shoots and a Walk down South

Prescient -This lovely pen and ink drawing by Professor Alice Roberts foreshadows what I saw one year after the fires which devasted the Southern Forests
(Many thanks for letting me use this!)

I went for a walk at the weekend. What’s so remarkable about that you ask? Well, it’s the first real walk I’ve done since before I went to New Zealand.  In fact, one of the main reasons I went, was that I was afraid that if I didn’t go then, I might never be able to do it at all. At the time I could barely make it to the local shop, even with my trusty trekking pole. Luckily, I got a specialist's appointment the day after I got back.  “Hmm," he said, "There's a blood clot in your femoral artery," and without much ado, he whipped it out. Now, thanks to this miracle of modern medicine, I’m walking normally again even though I didn’t quite make it to my destination.

The Southern Forests a year after the fire

It was nigh on dusk when I reached Geeveston. It all looked a bit gloomy. Blackened Eucalypts reached for the skies from what looked like charred earth.   It’s been a year since the fires here and there wasn’t an animal to be seen, though they are usually abundant at this time of day. Fortunately, things didn’t look quite so grim in the morning. A few birds sang, fat crows strutted about and both the trees and ferns were showing some signs of life. The Tahune Airwalk reopens next weekend, not as previously stated, but I couldn’t get in to see how it looked because there is now a big yellow gate at the entrance to that road.

What it used to look like - this is a part of a side road which hasn't been burnt

A Close up, so you can see the much greater diversity of species

Instead I headed South to the Hartz National Park. It was drier than when I last saw it, but at least it had been spared. As I walked among its dense and varied vegetation I marvelled at its persistence and apparent permanence. This however, belies its fragility.This type of alpine heathland does not recover the way Eucalypts do. There is much talk now about Aboriginal burning  - frequent low intensity burns, with mixed results from studies in different states, yet it must be remembered that the purpose of this burning was to promote and flush out game for hunting, not to preserve species, and is one of the reasons for the predominance of Eucalyptus forests in Australia now. 
Furthermore, apart from the state government cutting funding for controlled burns in NSW forests, forest scientists note that even controlled burns would not have stopped the intensity or spread of the recent fires, since the underlying factor was the preceding dryness coupled with prolonged and unprecedented high temperatures and ignition by dry lightning. What we should emulate from Aboriginal culture is the idea of Sacred Sites where no hunting or burning was permitted, thereby providing a refuge for animals and other species to breed and build up their numbers again. That is in effect what our National Parks are, though we should probably also get rid of the dry bark and fallen timber which builds up under gum trees in drier sclerophyll forests.  

Montane Vegetation inside Hartz National Park - white flowers mostly today, though there are a few small splashes of  red as berries or seed pods
Possibly Revolute Orites or a variation of  Lomatia (below) though these were taller than my plant book says they are supposed to be
Mountain Guitar Plant - Lomatia polymorpha
Sweet scented Leatherwood - Eucryphia lucida

 Our National Parks only exist at all because in more public -spirited times, visionary leaders understood that the frontiers were closing in the New World and that the Industrial Revolution was rapidly obliterating what was left of the wild lands in the Old. We should be eternally grateful for their foresight, particularly as new threats such as climate change emerge. The landscape here is already hotter and drier. The UV is more intense. Can primeval vegetation such the slow growing King Billy Pines and Huon Pines which don't exist outside Tasmania, make the transition in time to adapt? Where could these ancient species grow beyond these few mountain reaches in the far south?

Densley packed shrubs of MountainTeatree - Leptosperum repestre

The Mountain Pink Berry - Leptecophylla parvifolia

The fruit of the Mounatin Rocket - Belledena Montana also adds a touch of red. Mostly though it's as if the bush is in a state of suspended animation, between seasons as it were

I took this picture of a typical Hartz mountain tarn in 2017

The other reason why such places still exist at all, is because people have fought long and hard for them. Everywhere wilderness is under threat. In the Congo it’s because of logging, mining and slash and burn agriculture, in the Amazon both ranching and wildfires have caused record rates of deforestation. In the USA, a general dismantling of National Parks protections is underway with some national monuments in Utah possibly being opened to mining and drilling.

This is a different one, slightly lower down which I took on this walk and you can see how dry the surrounding countryside still is, despite last week's rain

Closer to home, Tasmania's State Government has rushed through draconian anti - protest laws, which, if the Upper House agrees, will mean that forest protesters could face fines up $500,000* and up to 18 months gaol, if they are deemed to be interfering with work. This will become more critical in coming months as the Moratorium on logging which has kept relative peace in our forests since 2016, ends in April this year. 
Other threats come from some 30 or so development proposals for National Parks currently being considered by the state. Nor is there yet any real attempt to halt climate change, rather the opposite with the federal government contemplating new coal and gas ventures, despite this summer’s devastating fires. What a shame this comes at a time when the world needs all the trees it can get. As I pause for a moment to admire the view, I wonder how long and how much will be left for future generations. There’s a sign here which is meant to protect the cushion plants. It says, “Grows by inches, killed by feet” but perhaps it should read, “Grows by inches, killed by a thousand cuts.”

*Postscript:  PM ABC Evening News: A pending case against the Bob Brown Foundation's forest protest in the Tarkine under the above law has just been overturned on constitutional grounds

Even the cushion plants - among my favourites, are showing signs of stress