*(Illustration: Madeleine Miller)
Australia is about to head into another bushfire season with memories of “Black Summer” still raw. But as Madeleine Miller describes in this illustrated story, we only need to go back a decade to understand just how long it takes the bush to recover.
The survival of Australia’s rainforests “appears bleak,” according to Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Its recent report into the O’Shannassy Catchment in the Yarra Ranges, shows the cool temperate rainforest is yet to recover from the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Despite rainforest species having some documented resistance to fire, Arn Tolsma and colleagues from the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, found that the primary rainforest species in the catchment – Myrtle Beech and Southern Sassafras – have been unable to fend off incursion from other non-rainforest species, particularly eucalypts, mountain ash and wattle species.
Two-thirds of the rainforest mapped in the O’Shannassy Catchment before the Black Saturday fires, can no longer be classified as such. Of the most severely burnt parts of these mapped areas, 96 per cent of the cool temperate rainforest was lost.
“Our findings are not new,” Arn Tolsma explains. “They are consistent with what other researchers are finding. That is, that fires seem to be getting bigger and hotter, overwhelming the capacity of rainforests to cope.”
In the O’Shannassy Catchment, Mountain Ash seedlings have been “converting the burnt rainforest into a mixed and more flammable forest of Mountain Ash over rainforest.”
In Northern NSW, rainforest ecologist Robert Kooyman, has been monitoring the aftermath of the recent summer bushfires on the Gondwana Rainforest.
He’s alarmed by the germination trends of mountain wattle. He too anticipates that other factors relevant to the demise of the Victorian rainforest – climate change and logging – will play out there in the years to come.
“It is about the major shift in vegetation type,” he says.
“Trees are modular units, they’re capable of re-sprouting from the root or base of a tree, but that doesn’t mean they’re resilient to fire or that those [new] sprouts will survive.”
— Story and illustrations, Madeleine Miller @madelemil
*Report: “Post Fire Dynamics of Cool Temperate Rainforest in the O’Shannassy Catchment” – Arthur Rylah Institute, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
*Map: Arthur Rylah Institute (Supplied)