Australian Institute of Alpine Studies


Bushfires 2003

Ian Fraser, 3 Feb 2003 - Brindabella section of Namadgi National Park

Today (3 February) I accompanied Environment ACT officers into theb Brindabella section of Namadgi National Park. Our planned trip last Thursday was called off due to the appalling weather conditions. This was the first time anyone had been up there since the fires. I was asked along in order to improve my ability to report accurately to the community (eg you!), both directly and via the ABC.

A disclaimer to start with. I am very aware of the importance of reporting 'objectively' and non-sensationally, but I doubt that I am able to do that.

For over 20 years the Brindies and Namadgi have been my 'back yard' and my work place. Through the books that I (and of course Marg) wrote about them, and through 18 years of Environment Tours, I think that I know and 'feel' the area, especially between Coree and Gingera, better than many. I always felt that one of the more useful things I did with my life was write a report which had a (minor) influence on the inclusion of the northern Brindabellas in 1991. All of this is just to explain that this is very personal to me, and you must take that into account in this report.

As with the Tidbinbilla fire (same fire actually, of course) both the extent and intensity of the blaze are quite shocking. Today we drove (and walked) along Brindabella Road and Mt Franklin Road to the Ginini Gate, down to Ginini Flat, down to Bendora Dam and out along
Warks Road. In all that I would not have seen a square metre of unburnt ground. (Prior to that too, from the road closure on Cotter Road near Weston to the ranges, everything is scorched.)

That is actually not quite true; the gully across the road from The Boulder on Bendora Road contains a ribbon of tree ferns about a metre wide. And this is really ALL there is left that I saw, though as I shall explain there are variations in the intensity of burning.

There are potential positives. Sections downslope of the Mt Franklin Road between Bulls Head and Aggie Gap, on both sides, have intact green canopy. This suggests some hope for arboreal animals in these areas. I emphasise the 'green' because in vast areas dead leaves persist, but leaf fall has begun.

In addition, I saw and heard more bird species (in very low numbers) than I'd have expected in the conditions. In particular, a source of amazement to us all was the number of lyrebirds seen (close to 20 altogether); how the hell (literally.) did they survive? Where? I have to assume that somewhere there are gullies that the fire leapt over. Most of those seen seemed to be foraging in roadside soaks, presumably the only source of ground surface invertebrates? How long will these areas be able to support them? Next most widespread were W-t Treecreepers; against the odds, inverts must be surviving in bark crevices. Also more Brown Falcons than I've seen in Namadgi; I'm aware of their reputation as fire 'associates'. Also in the high burnt Snow Gums, Gang-gangs, Crimson Rosellas, Sp Q-thrush, Flame Robin, Striated Pardalote, Brush Cuckoo, Kestrel, pair of Wedgies, White-browed Scrubbie; lower down (including Bendora) Pied Currawongs, Sacred Kingfisher, Yellow-faced and White-eared Honeyeaters, Common Bronzewing. In each case, one or very few.

Higher up were Red-necked Wallabies, lower were Swampies (ie Black, Black-tailed, depending on your origins!). I can't imagine what they've been living on, though along the lower burnt creeks Carex (a sedge) is shooting.

Murrumbidgee (at the Cotter): River Oaks Casuarina cunninghamiana are all burnt; does anyone know of their longer-term fire response? I'd guess that they die and reseed, but it is a guess.

I am sure that most of the 1939 stands of Alpine Ash Eucalyptus delegatensis will die and reseed. In some areas (eg past Bulls Head) many of them will survive. The fate of the regrowth from 1983 is a real worry though; they may well not able to seed at this age.

We don't know much, I think, about Snow Gum Eucalyptus pauciflora recovery. My guess (again! - this is very frustrating) is that most in the widespread intensely burnt areas will die; I'm hoping that the largest will have sufficiently protected underground shoots.

Riverine vegetation along the Cotter River below Bendora Dam: burn to ground level and to the water line.

Mt Franklin: the Chalet doesn't resemble a burnt building - the closest I can come to it is like a section of a rural rubbish tip. The ancient Snow Gums are in tatters, some just held up by a ribbon of trunk.

Ginini Flat: one of the worst shocks of the day. The earlier reports are now obsolete; obviously another fire front arrived, or perhaps a smouldering peat fire persisted. Perhaps 25-30% of the swamp vegetation remains in the sections we visited, and saw from the top of Franklin. Of the rest, up to 30cm of sphagnum is burnt. This represents centuries, perhaps a millenium or more, of growth. I don't even want to speculate on the impact of the already greatly-diminished Corroborree Frog population.

Lees Creek area: I had hopes that this lower area (ie without a fire roaring up to it) may have been spared. Instead it is close to the worst that I saw at Tidbinbilla. In a few places (eg where Warks Road descends from the west into Bulls Head Ck) there are some shrivelled but intact tree ferns; these will reshoot. Elsewhere though, down Bulls Head Ck, Blundells Ck and Lees Ck, the tree ferns have essentially vaporised and the fishbone fern beds are just blackened stumps. We have little experience of this I think; perhaps there are some records from the Dandenongs from the '39 fires?

Not much more I can add, especially in the way of good news. We must just trust that this must have happened many times before, though not, I think, in European times. It will recover, though I for one will not see it. I am so sorry to be the bearer of such grievous news; I don't for a moment think that my love for this place is unique.

Now for a valerian and a very large brandy ...

Ian


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