Australian Institute of Alpine Studies
John Morgan, 5 Feb
Members of the Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology visited the Bogong High Plains on the weekend to observe the fire effects and begin planning post-fire studies. I had only a brief examination of the area around Falls Creek and Mt McKay and made the following observations.
The foothills forest, montane Alpine Ash and subalpine Snow Gum forests between Mt Beauty and Falls Creek have been completely burnt out. Fire intensity appears to have been low in the foothills and montane areas. Very little crowning has occurred and many tree canopies remain green or scorched to moderate degrees. Nearer Falls Creek, crowning is more frequent and fire intensity higher in the Snow Gum due to more extreme fire weather. The valleys below Falls Creek (Rocky Creek) has seen the greatest fire effects - extremely intense fire probably whoosed through here on its way to Falls Creek and up to the Rocky Valley Dam wall.
At Falls Creek, fire has been stopped below the main road and at the edge of the ski runs - combination of fire breaks and good fire fighting. No evidence of fire between Falls Creek and Ruined Castle. Between Ruined Castle and Mt McKay, the area has been extensively burnt. Closed heaths (Podolobium, Hovea, Orites, Grevillea) have burnt entirely whereas wetlands (particularly if dominated by Richea) have not burnt. The fire has not burnt many of the herbfields or grasslands in this area. I saw extensive grasslands around Ruined Castle unburnt despite thorough burning of the adjacent heaths.
Northern slopes of Mt McKay are entirely devoid of vegetation but already Microseris, Celmisia and Stylidium are regrowing in the week after fire. At treeline, seed release of Snow Gum is occurring - intensity varies but outpost trees (the shortest and often surrounded by heaths) have had their canopy removed entirely. I wonder if upslope migration of treeline may occur after fire when seed release is greatest and competition from surrounding heaths at its lowest?
The snowpatch on Mt McKay has not burnt - Celmisia seems to have been a good fire retardant! Rocky outcropping herbfields largely unburnt as has the summit itself. This probably has a lot to do with aspect and wind effects here.
The Pygmy Possum habitat has been burnt out - all the closed heaths have been burnt but a few Podocarpus remain unburnt.
Lichens and mosses on rocks have been completely scorced in areas where surrounded by heaths but remain intact elsewhere.
Lots of butterflies and grasshoppers in the small areas that remain unburnt. Birds of prey at higher densities that usually seen. Wedge tail eagles seen, as were ? pergegrine falcons and black-shouldered kites. No evidence of ant activity yet.
Black ash carpets the soil but bare soil patches are already evident - redistribution of ash by wind suggests that patchiness will be a feature of the nutrient pools post fire.
Much of the High Plains themselves have also burnt but fire has mostly petered out in grass dominated communities. Perhaps others can fill in these details. I hope to get up again in about a week so may be able to report on areas above the treeline near Mt Nelse.