Tree ferns. Photo: Phil Ingamells

Tree ferns. Photo: Phil Ingamells

we are accepting that natural areas will change

In 2013, many regenerating stands of Alpine Ash in Victoria’s Alpine National Park were killed by repeated wildfires in 10 years. The young trees had no seed capsules and did not resprout; most trees died and few seedlings replaced them. To replace the dead stands, Alpine Ash seeds were aerially sown over 1,800 ha. If these stands are killed by a fire in the next 20 years, seeds will have to be sown again. At that time, should we sow Alpine Ash or another eucalypt that can resprout after wildfires, or perhaps a mix?

As climate change intensifies, there will be more days of extreme fire-weather. For this reason, many areas are expected to become less suitable for Alpine Ash, and for other species. The burnt stands of Alpine Ash highlight a dilemma that we and our children will face more and more often as climate change intensifies.

To what extent should we try to save the species and ecosystems that currently occur in a particular area, and at what stage should we accept, or even assist, new plants and animals that are more suited to the new climate?
Fire-killed Mountain Ash, Central Highlands, Victoria.

Fire-killed Mountain Ash, Central Highlands, Victoria.

There are many things we all can do to help nature adapt to a new climate, but there are limits. As climate change intensifies, we will have no choice but to accept more changes in natural areas than we are accustomed to, or – if we choose to prevent changes – to accept more interventions than we are accustomed to. Ultimately, both options may catalyse new ways of thinking and working.

To suggest that we will need to “accept” more changes in natural areas does not imply that we should try to “like” these change. We may not. And yet, we cannot disparage the new native species and altered natural areas that flourish under the new climate.

Our children will enjoy altered natural areas, like the forests of the Central Highlands, for many of the reasons that we do: as places to seek respite, to holiday with friends and family, to enjoy nature. Even though those places have changed.

By accepting that natural areas will continue to change under a new climate, by intervening to curtail the changes we do not accept, and by respecting altered ecosystems as they adapt to the new climate, we ensure we do not devalue the natural places that our children and grand-children will cherish, love and work to conserve.

To help nature adapt to a new climate:

We are accepting that natural areas will change as climate change intensifies.
We are acknowledging the value of the new ecosystems that climate change will create.
We are making sure that we do not denigrate the new native species and the altered ecosystems that climate change will deliver.

VicNature 2050 was organised by the Victorian National Parks Association, The Royal Society of Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute and sponsored by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria.