On Saturday 1 February, the Orroral (Namadgi) and Clear Range fires swept over the Murrumbidgee River and onto the western half of our Scottsdale Reserve. This has been a tense and challenging time and we are eternally grateful for the heroic efforts of the RFS and the extraordinary people on the ground fighting for our beloved Scottsdale. Importantly, our people remain safe and our community strong.
As fires continue to burn in the area, it will take some time to understand the full extent of the damage. But from an ecological perspective, we know that all is not lost.
Early reports suggest that 60% of the reserve has burnt but it is patchy and has created a mosaic. This means that some sections on the Murrumbidgee River and the high country will be unburnt, providing important refuges for animals escaping the fire front. They will continue to be important areas in the post-fire period providing shelter and food sources as the burnt areas recover.
According to our senior ecologist Dr Matt Appleby, “The forests in the high country have an understorey of heathy species and grasses which are well-adapted to fire. The area has not burnt for well over 15 years, so the plant species should fully recover. The unburnt areas remain good habitat for threatened species like Eastern Pygmy Possum, Rosenbergs goanna and Scarlet Robin.”
“As the fire spread east into the Gungoandra Creek valley, it burnt some important patches of Yellow Box and Apple Box woodlands. The grasses and forbs that form the groundcover in these areas are very resilient and bounce back quickly.”
Already we are getting reports of Diamond Firetails, Dusky Woodswallows and Brown Treecreepers in the north east part of the reserve, and our field staff took this incredible image of this determined echidna just yesterday at Scottsdale.
While these things bring us hope, it is certainly not without pain. Large sections of our revegetation work in the Gungoandra valley have been affected, and a small proportion of the older trees containing hollows that provide habitat for so many animals – possums, gliders, parrots and owls – will be lost.
Support teams are already on the ground looking for affected animals and in the coming weeks we will carefully monitor areas with invasive weeds to reduce the impact of species such as African Lovegrass, Serrated Tussock and St John’s Wort, while we develop a detailed recovery plan.
In these times, we have to remind ourselves that many mature plant species will re-sprout, the fire will create new hollows in the remaining trees, our wildlife is resourceful and fallen trees will replace logs consumed by fire; that the bush is a remarkable place.