The Arbour Festival came to Tumut River Brewing Co on Friday night as a group of experts gave a fascinating insight into some of the causes and effects of the Black Summer bushfires on Kosciuszko National Park.
A capacity audience of about 50 people gathered in the Brewery conference room for the event, Conservation in Action, presented by the National Parks and Wildlife and hosted by NPWS’s Dan Nicholls.
Jindabyne-based Atmospheric Scientist Dr Stuart Browning was the first speaker, and he appeared on screen as he couldn’t make it in person on the night. He talked about the climate and weather’s influence on the fires of 2019/20.
“The landscape was dry as it had had the lowest rainfall on record, and there were a lot of hot, dry windy days,” he said.
“2019 was the hottest and driest year on record. At one point, Penrith, at 48.9C, was the hottest place on Earth.’
He explained how a sudden stratospheric warming event in September 2019 drove a lot of the hot, dry windy conditions over Australia in the subsequent summer.
“These conditions are set to become a lot more common, and we are going to have to deal with them more frequently, rather than every 50 to 100 years as in the past,” he said.
Threatened species officer David Hunter talked about the fate and efforts to preserve the Southern Corroboree Frog, Spotted Tree Frog and Northern Corroboree Frog in the park in the wake of the fires.
He said a parasitic fungus was the main threat to the frogs, and that if not for the efforts of NPWS staff and volunteers, the Southern Corroboree Frog would be extinct.
He said of the four breeding areas of the three frogs, three were impacted by the fires, two severely.
“The Southern Tree Frog suffered a 95 per cent population crash after the fires,” he said.
The Northern Tree Frog is doing better than the other two, but it also is showing signs of decline.
However, he too maintains optimism.
“They are not going to go extinct on our watch,” he said.
Historical Heritage assets officer Megan Bowden talked about the impact of the fire on historic buildings in KNP.
“Ember attack caused 85 per cent of the losses,” she said.
That was quite a big blow.”
Many historic huts and buildings in the park were destroyed by the fire, including Bradleys/O’Briens, Round Moutnain, Brooks, Happys, Four Mile, The Rest House Sawyers Hill, Delanys, Wolgals, Vickerys, Linesmans No. 3 and Pattinsons huts; Matthews Cottage, Kiandra Courthouse, while there was also damage to Harveys, Cotterills, Jounama Gardens and Stamper Battery.
Natural Recovery Manager Gabi Wilks mentioned that Polish volunteer firefighters had raised the equivalent of $150,000 for recovery in KNP.
She talked about the impact and recovery of native species after the fire.
“The largest component of absent species are small insectivores or partial insectivores/nectivores with 82 per cent not recorded after the fire ,” she said.
She said the charismatic but perhaps poorly named broad-toothed rat had 35 per cent of its habitat in KNP impacted by fire, and that only two sites of 48 have individuals to date.
NPWS senior Hawkweed Control Officer Jo Caldwell, who is in control of the Kosciuszko National Park eradication program, said hawkweed might be small and unassuming like her, but it should not be underestimated.
“If it runs amok we are in big trouble,” she said.
“It will replace every other weed”.
She said her team’s job is to go out and find it and kill it.
Unfortunately, hawkweed coped well with the Black Summer fires.
“It didn’t miss a beat,” she said.
The team used drones to spot hawkweed after the fires, and were aided by the fact that much cover had been removed by the fires.
Ms Caldwell said the greatest asset in battling hawkweed was the volunteers and field team, and that she was confident of success.
“If we can find it, we will kill it; we will eradicate it,” she said.