Hundreds of ancient Brush Box and other rainforest trees, many over a thousand years old, have been felled in the head of Terania Creek, their bases eaten out by fire. While the loggers were stopped 40 years ago, this time nothing could stop the assault by human-induced climate change.
In early November fire swept into the basin at the head of Terania Creek, consuming ferns, desiccating shrubs and cooking thousands of Bangalow Palms. Towards the valley floor the remnant moisture slowed the fire's assault, though the fire ate at the tree's bases, toppling immense trees that smashed through the rainforest canopy, spreading the devastation. Three weeks later fallen veterans were still smouldering and fire trickled through the leaf litter deep in the rainforest.
The last time fire burnt into the heart of this rainforest was around 1,100 years ago. Now we have so fundamentally altered the climate that a regime change is occurring and such events will happen with increasing frequency.
From August to November this year the Rural Fire Service (RFS) mapped 1.7 million hectares of north-east NSW, from the Hunter River to the Queensland border and west onto the tablelands, as being burnt in wildfires. So far 958,000 ha of public lands and 752,000 of private lands have been affected.
The scale is already massive, encompassing 20% of the land area, and 32% of our remnant native vegetation, and at the time of writing the fires are expected to continue for months.
The fires are coming on top of a drought, compounding each other's impacts.
The bush is so dry that fire is burning through the moist areas, the gullies and rainforests, that we could rely upon in the past to stop fire's spread. These are also the refugia that so many of our species depend upon in hard times. The RFS mapping encompasses 120,000 ha of rainforests, while not all this will have burnt, as shown by Terania Creek a lot has.
The big old trees are irreplaceable, the eucalypts may live for 300-500 years, or more, and the Brush Box at Terania Creek have been aged at over 1,340 years old. The older they get the more essential nesting/denning hollows, nectar, browse and other resources they provide for a multitude of species.
Most old trees have been lost through clearing, ringbarking and logging. Now the death of the survivors is being hastened by drought, and in huge numbers as successive fires eat away at their bases. They are also routinely cut down and bulldozed to control fires.
Over half our remnant old growth forest has been burnt this year. Hundreds of thousands of the oldest remaining trees have perished. Their loss is tragic.