Fires burning across Tasmania are producing the worst crisis the world heritage forests there have faced in decades, says a long-term conservationist from the area. Source: The Guardian
“In my opinion – and I’ve been working on these issues since 1981 – it’s the gravest crisis the world heritage area has faced in that time,” Geoff Law, formerly a conservationist at the Wilderness Society said.
“As we speak there are areas burning inside the world heritage area, on the central plateau, where there are ancient species of native pine, which are very slow-growing and up to 1000 years old.
“Some of those are being killed as we speak.”
For many Australian forests, fire was a natural part of the ecology. But that was not the case for all of the areas now being threatened in Tasmania, Mr Law said.
“My concern is for the areas of rainforest and high-altitude vegetation in heavily glaciated [areas] where fire is not and has not been part of the ecology for millions and millions of years.”
Law said pencil pines and fagus, Australia’s only winter-deciduous tree, are now in the path of large fires moving into the world heritage area.
“My concern is for a stunningly beautiful but vulnerable fragile and irreplaceable vegetation that occur in those high-altitude areas,” Mr Law said.
“Because of the serious nature of the threat, national resources should be brought in to help fight fires in or near the world heritage areas.
“There are around 50 fires around the world heritage area or other parts of the wilderness. Many are in remote places and not being fought. They are getting bigger all the time. And there may not be sufficient rain to put them out for months.”
A Wilderness Society spokesman, Vica Bayley, applauded the Tasmanian fire service for their efforts and agreed that lives and property should be their first priortity.
But more resources were needed to protect vulnerable forests too, he said.
“Across western Tasmania, iconic alpine and rainforest areas that are incredibly fire sensitive have been burnt or are threatened by the fires that are burning across the landscape,”Mr Bayley said.
“Incredible tourism assets such as the Walls of Jerusalem and remote mountain ranges featuring fire-sensitive species such as cushion plant, pencil pine and deciduous beech are also threatened by current fire events and the dire season ahead. Recovery from fire events in these ecosystems would take centuries, if not millennia.”
There are more than 80 fires burning across Tasmania and residents in a number of towns in the north of the state have been told to get ready to leave their homes.