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Posts Tagged ‘bushfire’

Photo: CC BY-NC 2.0.
Australian ash forests are home to many species, including arboreal species like the Greater Glider.

Speaking of damage to forests, remember the terrible bushfires in Australia just before the pandemic — all those pictures of traumatized koalas!

Well, as worried as I am about the environment right now, I’m going to focus on what Mister Rogers said his mother told him when there were tragedies in the world: “Look for the helpers.”

The radio show Living on Earth (2/7/20) tells us that helpers rose up in Australia to rebuild the eucalyptus and ash forests when helpers were needed.

“After years of repeated bushfires, some of Australia’s eucalyptus forests can no longer come back on their own, so humans are giving them a helping hand by carefully collecting and distributing their seeds. Owen Bassett of Forest Solutions and host Bobby Bascomb discuss how the reseeding works, and the impacts of prolonged drought and climate change on Australian forests. …

“BASCOMB: Bushfires have burned through dry habitats home to many of Australia’s most iconic species, like koalas, kangaroos, and wallabies. They’ve even burned the more humid eucalyptus forests, home to the lyre bird, lead beater possum, and the great glider – an animal so adorable it’s been nicknamed a flying teddy bear. Some of these humid forests aren’t naturally equipped to deal with frequent fires and are struggling to grow back on their own. … Owen Bassett is Director of Forest Solutions, which is helping the government reseed forests in Victoria and New South Wales. He joins us from Melbourne, Victoria. Owen, … please describe the forests where you work. What do they look like and what does it feel like to be there?

“BASSETT: [The] forests that I work in are tall mountain forests, they’re known as ash forest. I suppose in terms of stature they’re similar to your California redwoods. So they’re very tall, very large trees and sort of a wet forest. [You] might think that a lot of Australia is covered in dry forest; most of it is, of course, and most of it is arid, but along the southeast corner, we have beautiful wet forests that run up the Great Dividing Range and they are gorgeous to be in. They’re cool, they’re damp, full of great native wildlife. …

“We have all of those marsupials that you American people know about, the jumping ones and the kangaroos; we have a species, or a number of species of wallaby that live in those forests. And we also have arboreals, so these are mammals that live up in the canopy of the forest. And then we have this magnificent songster, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the superb lyrebird. It has the capacity to mimic a whole range of birds and sounds that it hears in the forest. And it’s an absolute joy to listen to them. …

“BASCOMB: I think we actually have some recordings of the lyrebird we can play here. Let’s have a listen.

“[They] have the ability to imitate the shutter sound of cameras. They can imitate the sounds of chainsaws, dogs barking, all sorts of things like that. But the main repertoire is, is the full suite of other birds that are, and animal sounds that are in the forest.

“BASCOMB: So you mention that this is a very wet forest. Why is it burning now, and how common is that? …

“BASSETT: All eucalypts have evolved with fire, so fire is part of the environment here in Australia, a little bit like your California. But the thing is that, you know, we do have a changing climate here at the moment, a drying climate. And we’re currently caught in this real cycle of droughts, okay, so, in southeast Australia, we had this mammoth drought. We refer to it as the Millennial Drought. It went for 12 years, from 1997 to 2009. So what that left was this huge legacy of soil moisture deficit. … The species needs at least 20 years to be able to then reproduce, because young trees don’t flower. … We [have] forests that are at the stage of population collapse. Classically, it occurs in species like alpine ash and mountain ash that, you know, require much longer periods of fire intervals to survive.

“BASCOMB: So it sounds like if there was no intervention, these forests would likely turn into some different type of ecosystem altogether, maybe savanna or grassland or something like that. …

“BASSETT: These species are obligate seeders — if we have enough seed, and we have the means to spread that seed where the forest is going to experience population collapse, then we can intervene, lay seed on the ground or sow seed on the ground, and these forests will return. But it’s easier said than done. So we have to collect the seed, we have to distribute the seed, and that’s a mammoth operation. …

“BASSETT: Mountain ash, for example, is the tallest flowering plant in the world. And every year I go up in a light aircraft, and I actually map the distribution of the flowering. So once it’s flowered and we know where it is in the landscape, one year later, we can expect that there will be seed there. And so at that point, we send climb teams in and they climb these tall 80-meter trees. And they de-limb, just [to] keep the tree alive. We … take just a section of that crown out and from that, we can pick the seed pods, if you like. They’re sent away and the seeds extracted from that fruit or those pods. The seed looks a little bit like coarse pepper, so tiny seeds, the seeds are not, not big and it’s extraordinary to think that such a tall tree, something akin to your California redwoods, comes from this tiny, tiny piece of cracked-pepper size seed.”

“BASSETT: Yeah. So the concept of a seed bank is one that, you know, you put some seed away for a rainy day. We needed 10 tonnes of seed this year. At the moment, we might have a third, maybe to a half of that. Now I’ve been advocating for a seed bank for about 10 years, and the state government has only ever funded small seed collection operations that were emergency in nature, if you like. “Okay, we’ve got a bushfire, we’d better go and get some seed.”

Read what happens next at Living on Earth, here. There’s more at the Australian tree seed centre, too.

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Photo: Paul Braven/ AAP.
Images in support of the men and women fighting devastating bushfires were projected onto the Sydney Opera House January 2020

Remember the massive fires in the Australian bush and all the terrified koalas? It wasn’t that long ago. Artists were among those who used their talents to raise funds in the aftermath. I think the opinion piece written for the Conversation in January 2020 about Australia foreshadows the many ways artists were destined to help during the international disaster we now refer to as Covid.

Jo Caust, associate professor at the University of Melbourne, wrote the op-ed because at the time, a government was treating the arts as a nice-to-have but unnecessary frill.

Caust wrote, “Artists are again finding themselves at the receiving end of criticism over funding.

“A mural on the wall of a fire station funded through the Western Australia Percent for Art scheme has met with a hostile reaction in the light of the bushfire crisis.

“In WA [Western Australia] all new public buildings costing $2 million or more must spend 1% of the building costs on public art projects – a bipartisan initiative since 1989.

“Public art plays an important role in connecting communities, humanizing the environment and giving a community a unique identity, but WA Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Steve Thomas told the ABC ‘I think it is time for this policy to end. [It] is more important to put that money into the equipment [emergency services] require rather than art work to decorate the building,’ he said.

“Artists are a critical community resource, but this criticism is a familiar refrain in Australia, where arts practice is seen as non-essential.

“The federal government determined in December 2019 the arts no longer matter to the nation by disappearing the arts from mention as a governmental responsibility and continuing to cut arts funding.

Across the country, the average income of artists from their artwork is A$18,800, yet artists have raised millions of dollars in support of the 2020 bushfire crisis.

“Comedian Celeste Barber has raised over $50 million from more than 1.2 million people to help those who need it. Pink, Elton John, Metallica, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Chris Hemsworth, Kylie and Danni Minogue – to name only a handful – have personally donated large amounts of their own money to help fighters and victims.

“Visual artist Scott Marsh raised more than $60,000 by painting a mural in Chippendale. … The Stardust Circus prevented a blackout at the Ulladulla Evacuation Centre by lending their generator. Theatre companies are organizing collections at their performances for bushfire relief.

More than 32 concerts are taking place across the country with musicians giving their time for free to fundraise. Visual artists are auctioning their work. Writers, illustrators and editors are donating books, mentoring, and naming rights to characters in forthcoming books to support firefighters. …

“Art and artists can have a transformational role in rural communities by building resilience. Rural communities value their local history and artists can play an essential role in recording and validating a community’s culture.

“Arts institutions, such as regional galleries, can also have a dramatic impact on a community. In 2012, the Bendigo Art Gallery generated $16.3 million for the local economy. The Book Town festival in Clunes, the Writers Festival in Byron Bay and the Folk Festival in Port Fairy are all crucial to the sense of community in those towns.

“Artists can be critical in restoring hope and providing healing to a community after it has experienced trauma. The Creative Recovery Network works together with emergency management agencies across Australia to help communities affected by trauma and natural disasters to recover from their experiences. …

“While the arts can create provocation, they can also be a means of honoring feelings and processing grief. There are times when communities need more than financial relief to recover from loss. They need a way to make sense of it so they can move forward.

“Artists have stepped up in a huge way at this dark time in Australian history by volunteering their talents and resources to support communities and firefighters.

“They have demonstrated artists and arts practice can contribute to our society with passion, ingenuity, and imagination. It is time the arts and artists received the respect they deserve by our governments and the broader community.”

More at the Conversation, here.

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