Bushfires in Victoria: Natural sequence hydrology approach

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Colin, please expand on your Dandenong Ranges observation

Post by sheilan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 10:20 pm

Could you expand on this a little?

Colin wrote,
"A point to take note of regarding hydrating the landscape; if you are down in Melbourne and go to the Dandenong Ranges National Park, their is a walk straight up the hill from the entrance around a gully. One side of the gully is cool temperate rainforest and the other is dry sclerophyl forest. Obviously one side is shaded most of the day and the other gets the hot afternoon sun, I can't imagine one side has been burnt any more or less than the other?"

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Post by novaris » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:41 am

ColinJEly wrote:A point to take note of regarding hydrating the landscape; if you are down in Melbourne and go to the Dandenong Ranges National Park, their is a walk straight up the hill from the entrance around a gully. One side of the gully is cool temperate rainforest and the other is dry sclerophyl forest. Obviously one side is shaded most of the day and the other gets the hot afternoon sun, I can't imagine one side has been burnt any more or less than the other?
Interesting point Colin. Do you know much about the parks management practices i.e. have they ever used controlled burns? I wonder about erosion, has it left the area drier than it could be? As I understand it sclerophyl species came to dominate the bush due to aboriginal burning and to low soil phosphorous levels (which would have been aggravated by burning). Phosphorous is most likely still low making it harder for other species to grow, would you say the sclerophl area has more space between plants and more exposed ground?
Everything in moderation, including moderation.

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Post by duane » Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:05 pm

This article appeared in Diggers Seeds Autumn catalogue.

I am in total agreement with Clive Beazleys views on these environmental
Eucalyptus – Friend or Foe?
On February 7th, the day of Victoria’s bushfire holocaust, air temperatures broke all records reaching 48ºC. Humidity dropped below 10% and created conditions for unstoppable fires. Alloy wheels of cars melted confirming temperatures reached 1200ºC, demonstrating the eucalypt’s destructive capacity.
Oblivious to this disaster, Penny and I were with a party of friends walking through beech forests (Nothofagus) in Tasmania where it was only 24ºC.
Unlike inflammable eucalypt forests, a rainforest dominated by Nothofagus has tiny dark green leaves that block the sun reaching the forest floor as effectively as an umbrella. The soil was damp and moss covered the branches creating exquisite textures of green disturbed only by the roar of nearby waterfalls. Dotted throughout these cool and idyllic shady forests were patches of light provided invariably by the hanging leaves of sporadic eucalypts where the undergrowth was dry.
Before the pastoralists burned or bulldozed our coastal rainforests there was an uninterrupted 3,500 mile or more lush green coastal strip of virgin forest reaching from Tasmania all the way to Darwin.
But once the eucalypt becomes the dominant species and replaces the rain forest it completely alters the ecology to create conditions in which it thrives. The leaves of eucalypts hang vertically (see picture) to reduce evaporation letting through light that raises soil temperatures and reduces soil moisture which destroys shade loving ferns and mosses. The eucalypt also produces chemicals to prevent plant competition which assists it to become the dominant species. Its leaves are inflammable so its litter of leaves will ignite destroying all living things – soil carbon, soil biota, animals, plants and, of course, us.
The release of carbon into the atmosphere from the ignition of trees and soils was massive. Because it adapts and recovers from fires which destroy its competition it destroys diversity and changes our climate. Eucalypts have demonstrated Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” strategy so successfully they have become the predator plant species in Australia, and they are making this continent uninhabitable for humans.

By raising soil temperatures they destroy soil carbon and reduce soil fertility. But worst of all they reduce the fall of rain that has become so precious to our existence.
The eucalypt may be our most cherished plant, but now we must learn to understand its destructive potential.
They do more damage to our ecology than noxious weeds like blackberries, or introduced animals such as foxes.
If we allow the Tasmanian forest exploiter Gunns to have their way we will replace these cool diverse forests with dry inflammable mono-cultures of eucalypts just to provide cardboard boxes to increase their bottom line.
Most gardeners realise that planting eucalypts near houses is like putting an LPG gas bottle near the barbecue – but be aware the eucalypt is a predator that has the capacity to turn our fertile lands into a desert just like the Middle East.

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Post by gipsyrose » Mon Jul 13, 2009 11:48 pm

I have heard that there are a number of companies that produce bottled water that take huge amounts of water directly from the Kinglake ranges. If this is the case I can't help wondering whether this loss of ground water contributed to the ferocity of the fires???

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Post by ColinJEly » Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:01 pm

An interesting argument. Like Peter, it is saying that our 'native' forests shouldn't be a monoculture of eucalypts. Some other thought provoking viewpoints as well. What do our bush members think of this article?
http://jennifermarohasy.com/blog/2009/0 ... /#comments
This was taken from the blog of Jennifer Marohasy

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Post by Ashlee » Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:29 am

If you have already planted eucalyptus trees on your property unknowingly of their drying out of the landscape what can you do?? they are about 4 years old and of course doing very well. Is it possible to plant anything underneath/ in between which reduces this problem?

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Post by duane » Sat Jul 25, 2009 11:59 am


There are many spp of Acacias and other native and non natives that can co exist. Depends on where you are, soil type and your hydrology and fertility levels.

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southern rainforest corridors

Post by brettmtl » Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:54 pm

Duane, that article is spot on about eucalypts, I have seen it with my own eyes

Here is an article I wrote and intend to publish. All feedback is welcome.

Southern Rainforest Corridors
Written by Brett Cowan

Australia’s worst ever natural disaster: Black Saturday super fire of 2009, that destroyed lives, homes and forest, and ultimately altered our perception of nature and how ruthless it can be.
With this in mind, I went for a drive up through Flowerdale, Kinglake, Toolangi, Healsville, Narbethong, Buxton and then Marysville and witnessed how nature had wiped man off the map in many of these locations.

The emotions I felt, were horror, sadness, anguish, guilt, most of all, an overwhelming helplessness and if it happened once it can happen again. Seeing the regrowth on the black, charred eucalyptus trunks evoked this feeling

It happened in an instant Carl a resident at Kinglake recalled. Driving in his Mustang at 80mph, barely managed to outrun the fireballs, which he described “like they were being shot from a massive cannon and rolling in balls across the top of the trees. These immense fireballs jumped 15km in one area.”

What was fuelling these fireballs?
Driving through these forest towns, the same picture was repeated, twisted metal and charred bricks was all that remained of peoples homes. These ruins were dotted in amongst towering trees, the majority being eucalypts.

In the past people viewed and admired these trees for their beauty and shade, helping to create the charm of the Aussie bush. Now it is open slather on them, cut, cut them all down, they are now viewed understandably as the enemy. There are piles and piles of logs, being turned into piles and piles of mulch. A massive clearing of these residential townships is underway, the question must be asked, what to plant back?

Continued driving past destroyed Marysville and just after the Lake Mountain turnoff something very peculiar captured my imagination. Here there were burnt area, but there were also large pockets of green. It appeared in many areas as if the forest had stopped the fire.

This is a different type of forest then that surrounding all those destroyed towns I had just driven through. There are pockets of Mountain Ash, but the greatest amount of trees was Myrtle Beech, Nothofagus Cunninghamii, one of the original rainforest species.

This is a close up of the rainforest in 2008, before Black Saturday

Now I know some people will say, that is Wet Sclerophyll and that is how companies get to log it, but I class it as rainforest, as intense fire kills the Mountain Ash, Eucalyptus regnans which is the canopy tree pictured. One of the only Eucalypts to die from intense fire. The understory is Myrtle Beech.


Below: After Black Saturday, same area, The brown trees are myrtle that slowed and cooled the fire enough to leave other areas green and growing


Another areas where the fire stopped


The understory that was too wet and lush for fire to burn

I decided to camp near this rainforest on the Saturday night. It was a cold frosty night and for some reason I couldn’t sleep. I was tired and yet wired, full of excitement about what I had discovered. I had found forest that had stopped the raging inferno that destroyed so many lives and towns. I had the solution and so I started drawing up a vision.

A vision that is worthy of my life.

The next day I drove back to Kinglake and met Eric and Glenda of Global Care, who are in charge of the rebuilding process.
I asked them about the revegetation of the township and what types of plants are being looked at. Glenda said, ‘currently there is no vision’ and when I suggested rainforest, her eyes lit up and she said, ‘maybe it is as simple and obvious as that.’ No one, not even the group in charge of revegetating Kinglake has recommended this to me.’

I then spoke to Ken, a senior figure in the Kinglake council.
Asked him about the revegetation of the town and the prospect of Rainforest corridors as firebreaks. He smiled and said ‘that after the Ash Wednesday bushfires 1983, one of the key recommendations by the Coroner was to have firebreaks of fire-retardant corridors, such as rainforest, throughout the Great Dividing Range.’
Twenty-six years later, as no rainforest corridors were established, Australia’s worst natural disaster has occurred.
Unless rainforest corridors are established these super fires will keep increasing.


I then spoke to Peter in the Forestry department, based at Kinglake and asked him, what they are planning on planting back through the charred State Forests. His answer shocked me, ‘It is already starting to grow back.’ I said, ‘what, the eucalypts.’ He said, ‘yes it is a natural cycle.’ I was shaking my head by this stage, stating, ‘you are going to have another one of these super fires unless something else is planted.’
Having reached a stalemate I asked, ‘Have you seen the rainforest out the back of Marysville, it stopped the fire.’ He said ‘that it is special type of forest that grows in moist shaded soil.’ I then asked him to consider that it could be the rainforest that shades the soil and creates and holds the moisture in the soil. ‘Maybe’ was his reply.


Ignorance of Victoria’s rainforest is not only restricted to governing bodies. I went to the township of Sassafras in the Dandenong Ranges. This town was named after the Southern Rainforest tree Southern Sassafras, Atherosperma moshatum that once covered most of the Dandenong Ranges.
Sassafras is a very unique, beautiful tree with many uses, furniture grade timber and medicinal and food production qualities.
I drink a refreshing tea made from the leaf, so I went to the Teahouse a Teashop in Sassafras that stocks hundreds of different teas from all around the world I thought I would be able to buy some Sassafras Tea in the township of Sassafras, but no, no one is producing it.
I went to the lolly shop thinking I could buy some Sassafras drops, similar to Eucalyptus drops, but no one is producing them.
I then went to the Sassafras nursery, thinking I will buy a Sassafras tree, but again nothing. I asked the proprietor of the nursery why I couldn’t get a Sassafras tree in Sassafras and he said ‘no-one is growing them, they used to be all through the town until the 1960’s, when some bloke cut them all down.’
Again no one is planting them back, let alone promoting them.

With these words ringing in my ears, I wanted a different opinion; I wanted the science and history of Victoria’s forest.
So I met with Mary Gibson a Senior Professor in Botany at Deakin University about bushfires and rainforest.
Next semester, Bachelor Degree students in groups of three, have to work on an 80-hour project. I have presented an outline of my vision for Victoria and Mary has kindly accepted my request of a group of these students working on my paper ‘Southern Rainforest- Past, present and future.’
This Paper will be available in two formats, 1) an animated digital clip for Internet and 2) Booklet for distribution to relevant bodies and media release. This paper will outline Southern Rainforest Link vision.

This is the background of where my vision has arisen.

The vision: Southern Rainforest Corridors.

Victoria Hydrated 2020 and beyond

Melbourne hydrated, rainforest ring corridor 10 kilometres wide, from the Otways, through Lake Corangamite, Hepburn Springs, Mount Macedon, Kinglake, Marysville, Strezlecki ranges and to Wilsons Promontory. Linking all of our water catchments with rainforest corridors.

This corridor to start closest to the ocean and slowly moves inland, carrying rain clouds.

Other corridors, branching off and running through the Great Dividing Range.

Rivers flowing north from the Great Dividing Range to be used as rainforest corridors and carry rain clouds to water the north of Victoria.

Some benefits:
• Carbon storage.
• Increased hydration, water retention and condensation.
• Build topsoil.
• Enhance nutrient recycling.
• Secure Victoria’s ancient forests.
• Provide forest boundaries between forest types, which are the most diverse for fauna species.
• Fire retardant.
• Secure Victoria’s water supplies.
• Beautify and enhance Victoria’s landscape.
• Unique forest types that are found nowhere else on Earth, survived the last ice age and remnant of Gondwana.
• Eco tourism. Examine Cairns and other parts of Australia where large tracts of rainforest are preserved.

The rainforest doesn’t care if we plant it back or not, it doesn’t need us, it has been here for over 150 million years. It will survive in small pockets and gullies as it always has. We the people need the rainforest, without it we are doomed to desert, a life of fire and death.
If we don’t rebalance and create rainforest corridors, we will as a civilisation, be wiped out by these fires and drought and desertification. Once we have been wiped off the face of the earth, rainforest will re-establish through many valley systems, protected mountainsides and eventually take over most of our productive farmland, as there will be nothing to oppose it.
Our only choice and this is a choice we make on behalf of our grandchildren is to work and co-operate with rainforest and re-establish it to its rightful place of cooling and hydrating the landscape. I now ask for your commitment to creating rainforest corridors throughout Australia and then the world. :D

Please contact me if you are interested in implementing this vision or have relevant feedback or anything that contradicts my observations. I have formed a group on facebook, 'southern rainforest corridors,' please join and share with others, until a proper foundation is established.


Thank you for your interest


ps. this is a photo of one of my favourite trees that was killed on Black Saturday, call me inhumane for not putting a photo of a person here, but this tree was over 400 years old, nearly twice the age of Australia's European history


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Post by ColinJEly » Thu Aug 06, 2009 5:15 pm

I am just waiting for my 6 numbers to come up to do exactly the same thing, a diverse range of native and exotic trees

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Post by duane » Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:06 am

Brett, after reading your post and seeing the images I am copying in this post.

The Weeds of National Significance Act is about to be lobbied to put the whole Genus Eucalyptus on the WONS list.

It is the greatest environmental weed this country has!!!

WHY should it be declared??

It is invasive.
It burns....
Its alleolopathic
It's residue fails to break down.
Its a monoculture.
It's poisoning and killing ALL of our catchments.
It prevents biodiversity from growing beneath it.

All the reasons for putting it on the WONS list.

Anyone want to debate the topic please join the post.

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Post by duane » Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:08 am


you should find inspiration from this:
http://www.ted.com/talks/willie_smits_r ... orest.html

We cando better here in Victoria.

It works and Willy has the proof.

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Post by brettmtl » Fri Aug 07, 2009 11:29 am

haha good luck Colin.

Now about the Eucalyptus, I agree that 98% of them are very smart and too competitive for our other plants and diversity, though they are only reflecting humans and our ways. Where these dry woodlands grow, it was burnt thousands of times by the Aborigines, then it would rain and nutrients and top soil were washed away. Imagine this repeated 1,000 times

The aboriginies only really used the flat valley land, that we now inhabit, they frequented the mountains, but did not live there permanently. Then when we arrived, we cleared, mined, grazed, burnt and trashed the mostly wet forest and rainforest the Aboriginies had left alone in the Great Dividing Range. We have now trashed over 95% of the Great Dividing Range with an 80 year logging cycle, creating the perfect environment for an unnatural dry eucalypt forest.

The only exception I have found to the Eucalyptus competitiveness is the Old-Growth Mountain Ash and Shining Gum forests of Victoria and Tasmania, where the trees grow that tall and fast, create huge amounts of mulch and leaf litter and provide a canopy for rainforest to grow underneath.
David Bellamy the English botanist, when he saw the Shining Gum forests of Errinundra, in East Gippsland said, 'I didn't think forests like this existed', that is how diverse they are.
I believe they exist as again the Aboriginies rarely lived or burnt these areas. I am currently doing research to find out whether the Ash forest canopy with rainforest understory grew in valleys and river flats, before Aborigines arrived and burnt these areas

My landscape teacher once described Eucalypts growing in and around Melbourne and Victoria as Bastard trees, half joking. I now know what he was talking about. We don't father the forests, they are only viewed to be cut down and pulped and just like an unruly child, we bear the consequences with superfires, drought and so forth. That can be taken a step further, as the Mountain Ash has a 400 year life cycle, there are very few elder trees to care, guide and protect the younger trees.

Thanks for the link Duane, it is always inspiring to see other people's victories, I have also sent a message to you.

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Post by ColinJEly » Mon Aug 10, 2009 12:03 am

As someone who worked for DSE (in administration) I was always told by those at the 'sharp end' that it was a 20-30year logging cycle for Pinus and a 30-40year logging cycle for Eucalyptus.
I recently went to the 'Kuranga Native Nursery' I asked one of the staff if they had noticed more people coming in to buy non Eucalyptus/Corymbia species, she asked me why? I mentioned the reduced fire risk, especially in light of the recent catastrophic fires here in Victoria, I also mentioned how our forests used not to be dominated by Eucalypts but by a mix of species. She looked at me nonplussed and I don't think she believed me, and these people consider themselves to be the premier native nursery in Melbourne. However all was not lost, I did come away with a nice Nothofagus moorei for my collection, must go back again one day and get a Nothofagus cunninghamii

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Post by duane » Mon Aug 10, 2009 7:43 am

Hey Col

You need to start the REVOLUTION in Victoria to get people to STOP planting gums and plant these mixed species conifers and other plants.


Remember the theme of the revolution is "oak trees from small things come"....Col you are that oak seed!

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Post by Shirley Henderson » Mon Aug 10, 2009 12:49 pm

Hello Duane, I would like to make some comments on Eucalyptus as weeds. Firstly I think the Eucalyptus is a magnificent tree and certainly has its place in Australia. Australians love the gum and it has become a huge part of the Australian culture. Everyone knows koalas eat Eucalyptus leaves and therefore if we have lots of gums we should have lots of Koalas.
I like koalas but unfortunately and ironically if there were less Eucalyptus we might have more koalas. How do we get from saving the Eucalyptus and Koalas to SETTING THE BUSH ON FIRE TO CONTROL FIRE.
Poor little Sam the Koala who did not survive after being burned in a deliberately lit back burning during the Victorian fires is representative of all the animals that do not get saved. These animals do not need fire to protect them; they need a diverse habitat that it is not prone to fires.
The endangered vegetation communities that are disappearing do not need fire to help them to germinate at those particular plants ARE surviving well! It is the vegetation and the animals that cannot cope with fire that are being lost. Fire is not the solution as dry bush and hazard control burns are only adding to the problem. I challenge any fire chief to come forward to deny that if there were less Eucalyptus in the forests, along roads and surrounding homes that Australians would not be a safer place for all of us to live. Yes Eucalyptus belong, yes koalas and other wildlife rely on them for shelter, food, breeding and corridors but there are many more species of plants that can provide all of those needs without putting us all at risk of being burnt alive by fire.
My own experience of working in the bush and observing nature with an absolute love of it, I can honestly state that Eucalyptus need no help to survive. They seed prolifically and take over large areas in one go extremely fast when germinating all at once. I have seen areas regenerating when nothing else will grow, up comes vast quantities of Eucalyptus restarting a forest. Very good if you want another fire prone area built. Since it is us humans that have unbalanced the natural systems in Australia it is up to us humans to do our out most to afford some rebalance in the form of reintroducing diversity. I for one have stopped planting Eucalyptus long ago and now only plant small trees, shrubs, sub-shrubs and grasses, leaving the larger trees to propagate themselves; and they do so readily.
Thinning out is a necessity if we are to restore a stable environment.
To those people that went through the Victorian Fires , I cannot possibly imagine how horrific that must have been. Please do not replant any Eucalyptus and implore your authorities to thin them out from the forest to prevent this ever happening again.

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