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Bird Fest Website special report from Australia


January 20th, 2020:  Special Report from Gary Davidson in Australia:  

I have been doing some checking on the regenerative powers of Australian trees. It's a bit more complex than I thought. When it comes to fires, Australia’s Eucalyptus trees fall into two very general categories: smooth bark and stringy bark. The rough stringy bark trees have much more resistance to fire than the smooth barks, (their bark is much thicker). As a result, the smooth barks are more likely to be killed during a fire. But as I said before, the fires often burn primarily on the ground and move through quite quickly. This year, however, some of the fires have been hotter then "normal". The smooth barks aren't fairing very well and some of the smaller rough barks are burning too. I have attached a few photos. The first one shows a healthy forest. The next two show what an area looks like after a fire has gone through. The last one shows some regrowth already appearing following a fire earlier in the season. A friend of mine here in Australia adds the following comment:

 [The stringy barks are able to cope with fires better than the smooth barked trees. Both Eucalypt groups readily regenerate through the presence of epicormic buds which you have in one of your photos. Fire intensity certainly plays a role in this function. The acacias (wattles) and Banksias have woody fruits which require heat from fires to open them up and release the seed. The ash often provides additional nutrients for the germinating seed and the fire eliminates other competitors. Rain following fires permits these species to get a jump on other plants in the growing stakes.]  

As I said before, some of the forests will come back quite quickly, although apparently, with fewer smooth bark species. Some of the animals, on the other hand, are gone. It is estimated that 500 million animals have been killed by the fires in Victoria alone. I haven't heard any estimates for other states, but it seems likely that the toll in New South Wales will be just as great. There have also been significant losses in Queensland and South Australia. Ground dwelling species like lizards and snakes have no chance. Koalas and possums cannot escape. Some small rodents retreat to their burrows where many are likely killed by the heat. In addition, almost 30 people have died and over 2000 homes have been destroyed.  

Because of the amount of forest burned, there are calls to list the Koala as endangered in the state of New South Wales. I suspect some others species are just as imperilled, but everyone loves a koala! Queensland did not suffer as badly, but Victoria is still burning and it remains to be seen what the results will be there. Already over 3000 square kilometres have burned in Victoria. The last couple of days have been much cooler and it's giving the firefighters a chance to gain some control over the fires in some places. With continued cooler temps in the forecast, officials are quite optimistic.  

We will be heading south in a few days and will enter Victoria soon. That is where the worst fires remain. The coastal highway is closed and has been for some time. The inland highway going to Melbourne is open and that seems to be our only option at the moment.  

Gary