Australia Firefighters Save the Only Wild Prehistoric Wollemi Pines on Earth
The Wollemi pines once grew widely across Australia from more than 100 to 60 million years ago, The Washington Post reported. But now less than 200 remain in the wild, in a national park 125 miles northwest of Sydney.
"It's something like the Opera House of the natural world," Richard Kingsford, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales (NSW), told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Losing it would have added to the catastrophe we have seen elsewhere."
The Wollemi Pines outlasted the dinosaurs and thanks to the mammoth efforts of NPWS they look like they will surviv… https://t.co/mS9HXWtoNm— Matt Kean MP (@Matt Kean MP)1579125690.0
Historic wildfires in Australia this spring and summer have killed at least 28 people and more than a billion animals. Heavy rainfall in the last 24 hours has brought some relief to the the hard-hit states of NSW and Victoria, CNN reported.
But during the worst of the crisis, the NSW government knew it had to protect the ancient trees growing in a ravine in Wollemi National Park, so the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) firefighters and the NSW Rural Fire Service worked together to carry out an "unprecedented environmental protection mission," NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said in a statement Wednesday.
"Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them," he said.
Fire retardant was first dropped over the area from air tankers, and firefighters were lowered from helicopters into the ravine to set up an irrigation system.
Firefighters returned when the flames approached the grove to operate the irrigation system. Helicopters also dropped water on the edges of the fire to protect the trees, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
Much of Wollemi National Park was destroyed by the Gospers Mountain fire, and, for four days towards the end of 2019, officials feared the trees might have been destroyed too.
"We just waited with bated breath," Kean told The Sydney Morning Herald.
But when smoke cleared, it became clear that most of the trees had survived.
Wollemi pines aren't actually pines, The Washington Post explained. They are in fact a type of conifer that has bubbly-looking bark and can grow to be 130 feet.
They were thought to be extinct until 1994, when David Noble, an officer with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, discovered an unfamiliar tree species when rappelling in the park, NPR reported.
Noble did not know what he'd found, and the samples he brought back stumped biologists and botanists. It was only when he returned with scientists a month later that the mystery was solved.
"When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur," Kean told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Their exact location has been kept a secret since then to protect them from contamination, and the firefighters' efforts to save them were kept similarly secret to protect their location.
Kean expressed hope that what Australian firefighters had done for the trees, Australia as a whole could do for the planet.
"We'll always have bush fires in this country. There's no doubt about that. But there's no doubt also that the severity of this year's bush fires is not like anything we've ever seen. And that's due to climate change," Kean told NPR. "There's a huge opportunity for us to lead the way in terms of tackling climate change and help the rest of the world decarbonize. There's no better country on the planet better placed to do that than Australia."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>