California/Australia Fires, and their roots in Climate Change, Land Management, and Ecosystem Collapse

Yes, I wanted to answer your question from the beginning. I live in Mount Alexander Shire – the site of the biggest/richest alluvial gold diggings in the world. This land was trashed! Everything turned over much like California, the forests cut thrice over for pit props, crushing, steam engine fuels…
While I agree with you about management we have had the driest and hottest year on record (not just a stand out anomaly but a repeating increase) so yes I think we are the canary in the coal mine. Please listen to BOM’s full assessment of 2019 weather which comes out this week.


You read about it on an American (USA) site???

Just wanted to clarify that no part of New South Wales is considered to have a Mediterranean climate. NSW has had more land burn that any other Australian state this fire season ( almost 5 million hectares), and pretty much everywhere that has burned in NSW is considered to have either a humid subtropical or oceanic climate.

A lot of the area that has burned is on, or not far from the coast. The NSW coast is not normally a dry place, nor is it very hot. A lot ( maybe most) of the coast has an average annual rainfall exceeding 1000mm. It is usually lush and green. But, this fire season has seen rainforest burn.
Just wanted to caution against assuming that everywhere burned is normally dry, hot and fire-prone or fire-adapted. Because it’s really not.
Australian climate zonesöppen.svg
Average annual rainfall


That’s a really important clarification thanks vavilovian_mimic. Here in nz I noticed informal comments in the Australian fire news like “This is rainforest burning…this is usually a lush green area”…which had a big impact on my perception of the fires (sorry I failed to note what area the comments were about).

Here in New Zealand people have always told me that Australia has “bushfires” because the trees are mostly Eucalyptus, which are very flammable and burn hot, i believe. Is Eucalyptus part of the NSW subtropical rainforest?

Throughout this current disaster, whenever Sydney or NSW has been mentioned I have recalled visiting in 1974 the dense, deeply shaded forest of a National Park on the outskirts of Sydney (NSW). From memory it was entirely green, with no signs of dryness or undue heat.

Is forest like that burning or burnt? If so, the heat of the fire must have been really intense to have ignited it? (according to what I was once told here in answer to my concern when travelling here in NZ during summer drought along a narrow winding highway through miles of dense forest on both sides of a gorge).

In Australia, the heat build up from the (perpetually?) arid interior of the vast continent, combined with the heat of the increasing area of fire,presumably played a part in enabling the coastal subtropical rainforest to catch fire? Or had the rainforest become dry enough to burn anyway? if the latter, how obvious was the change in appearance of the forest prior to the fires?

I hope this doesn’t sound too detached, ie unfeeling. On the contrary, as you might have surmised, I am trying to get more idea of the present or future increased vulnerabiility of New Zealand subtropical rainforest to fire.


and a British site

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for what it is worth, when i mentioned highly flammable Eucalyptus I meant in particular E. globulus which is very flammable and spots sparks everywhere, or at least it deos where it grows in California (sometimes things act and grow very differently where native versus invasive). Given there are what, hundreds of species of Eucalyptus I am guessing they aren’t all the same in regards to flammability.


An article with lots of input from a climate scientist

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And commentary from an Australian “Forest expert who had contributed to research re climate change”

Great questions! I’ll do my best to answer them, albeit inexpertly. I have more to say than this but I’m attempting to limit the time each day I spend thinking about this situation, just for my own sanity.

You do not sound at all detached or unfeeling, i hope other places learn from this catastrophe.

Eucalyptus are mostly absent from all types of Australian rainforest, though in some places/ types of rainforest they may be present occasionally as individuals. However I’d reckon Eucalyptus would be very common on rainforest edges/ margins, and probably dominates many forests that are adjacent to rainforest.

Charlie makes a good point. There are a lot of eucalypt species that live in a wide range of habitats. Swamps to arid environments. My impression is that they’re all pretty flammable but it seems probable that it varies considerably by species and situation?

Yep I’d absolutely say forest of the kind you visited in 1974 has burned, or is burning.

I can’t say what the rainforests that have burned looked like before, but i’ll speculate and say I reckon they probably looked pretty lush, green and healthy to the casual observer, though anyone well acquainted with them would have seen difference. I’ll elaborate after my mental health break : )


Me too. Good idea, and thanks for your reply here. Very useful, and it covers my questions. Much appreciated

Well, maybe. Certainly a good deal of the Blue Mountains forestland has burned this year. Fortunately the major national parks closer to Sydney, including the Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, have not had fire so far this season.


Your post is impressive and right on.
What is worse - climate change or the trashing of planet earth.
I wish I saw the trashing of planet earth talked about more.
Yes, we hear a lot about plastic, but less about the many issues you bring up.
I am just an east coast USA person. I can’t but believe that
Trashing of planet earth isn’t occurring all over planet earth.
Thanks for you post.


Yep, I meant forest of ‘that kind’ in a broad sense. Not necessarily exactly the same ecological community, but certainly places have burned that fit the description of what kaipatiki_naturewatc observed in 1974. After all it is a general description of an unknown place encountered almost 50 years ago : )

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i more look at it as climate change as a part of the ‘trashing’ of Earth albeit one of the most consequential parts of that problem, especially to humans.


Yes, thanks again.

Exciting news here! We just a great big thunderstorm here in the Illawarra and a large downpour like I haven’t seen for a really long time. I’m hoping this means the Illawarra escarpment won’t burn (at least this year). Much of it has been closed to the public since December due to high fire risk. And there has been plenty of fear around here that it would happen. I think it’s just been good luck. It’s a huge relief to me, It’s hard to explain just how important the place is to me personally, though I’m sure many of you will understand : )

BTW we have an average annual rainfall here of 1300mm (even higher on parts of the escarpment) so it’s normally a pretty lush green place, not that vulnerable to bushfire.

There is no doubt in my mind that climate change has been a major factor in this ecological catastrophe. Not the only factor by any means, but i reckon it has made the scale of this disaster really massive. The Australian government will be doing it’s best to blame anyone or anything else. I’m concerned that national parks will be a scapegoat.

@kaipatiki_naturewatc you are very welcome!


This has definitely happened in the US, where the problems I mentioned at the top of the thread are usually ignored and instead lack of logging is blamed which doesn’t usually make any sense. Or one particular notorious ‘rake the forest’ comment.


Thrilled to hear about the rain! I saw a news video of an 18 month child seeing rain for the first time.

I am sure I am not the only one who càn wholeheartedly understand what a Place can mean to a person,and your relief.

I am also sure that there are lots who can’t, as they propose humans inhabit plastic tube warrens, underground, a different planet etc, as alternatives to respectful treatment of this lovely little bit of Earth’s crust, this tiny tiny fraction which is habitable by humans.

All the best to your bit of that:)


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