Despite the devastation caused by the bushfires, just 6 months on from the disaster, Australian forests showed encouraging signs of recovery. Trees that had been scorched by the fires are re-growing, with many producing epicormic buds, a cluster of leaves that lie beneath the bark and are protected from fire, stimulating the tree to re-sprout and regenerate branches and providing encouraging proof that the trees have survived. Australia’s eucalypt forest ecosystems are adapted in this way to withstand bushfires and are therefore responding well, however some forests may never recover entirely.
The Bushfire Recovery Project has been tracking forest regrowth weekly in areas of New South Wales and Victoria where bushfires were particularly devastating. Ecologists have compared pre- bushfire forest and the area burnt in the fires to assess their regrowth, finding that although the resilient eucalypts are recovering well, subalpine forests are struggling. Subalpine species regrow by dropping seeds, but as the bushfires during the 2019-2020 season were much more frequent and severe, the trees burnt were too young to produce seeds and therefore, the forest cannot regenerate. In Victoria, seeds were collected following the bushfires in an effort to re-establish forests in the worst scorched areas, but forest recovery will be slow-going and there is no way of knowing what the long-term impacts will be.
The 2019-2020 bushfires highlighted the urgent need to improve Australia’s wildlife rescue capacity. WWF-Australia and Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital have recently funded and completed Australia’s largest mobile wildlife hospital, which will be an invaluable facility for future bushfire seasons, allowing the organisation to travel to any location to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife in crisis. It is hoped that the availability of immediate and high-level medical assistance will drastically reduce the number of fatalities in future disasters. The mobile hospital was funded through WWF’s ‘Regenerate Australia’ project, a 5-year plan to aid the recovery of the local communities, wildlife and ecosystems that have been affected by bushfires. A key part of this plan is the Koalas Forever project which has the goal to double the koala population in eastern Australia by 2050, and it is hoped the mobile hospital will make a significant contribution to saving koalas from becoming further endangered.
The recovery of Australia’s forests and wildlife following the bushfires is still ongoing and would be impossible without support. We’re hoping to be able to send volunteers back out to Australia soon, so why not check out the volunteer opportunities available with WorkingAbroad.
Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Rebecca Williams