Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Australia Firefighters Save the Only Wild Prehistoric Wollemi Pines on Earth

Popular
The exact location of the prehistoric trees saved by firefighters has been kept a secret to protect them from contamination. NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment / CC BY 4.0

It looks as if firefighters in Australia have succeeded in saving a secret grove of prehistoric trees belonging to a species that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.


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."

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.

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment / CC BY 4.0

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.

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment / CC BY 4.0

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."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The sun shines over the Southern Ocean in Antarctica. Rebecca Yale / Moment / Getty Images Plus

Atmospheric researchers have pinpointed the spot on Earth with the cleanest air. It's not in the midst of a remote jungle, nor on a deserted tropical island. Instead, the cleanest air in the world is in the air above the frigid Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Brazil burnt, logged and bulldozed a third of the area lost, with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia placing second and third. Brasil2 / Getty Images

Satellite data collated for the World Resources Institute (WRI) showed primal rainforest was lost across 38,000 square kilometers (14,500 square miles) globally — ruining habitats and releasing carbon once locked in wood into the atmosphere.

Read More Show Less
People sit in circles to observe social distance in Domino Park amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 21, 2020 in New York City. New research says preventative measures such as social distancing and wearing face masks should not be relaxed as temperatures warm up. Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Researchers have found that warm temperatures in the U.S. this summer are unlikely to stop the coronavirus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease.

Read More Show Less
Protesters gather to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by police, on May 27, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The glaring numbers that show how disproportionately racial minorities have been affected by the coronavirus and by police brutality go hand-in-hand. The two are byproducts of systemic racism that has kept people of color marginalized and contributed to a public health crisis, according to three prominent medical organizations — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American College of Physicians, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
In a series of major wins for climate campaigners, New York regulators and Cuomo have repeatedly blocked construction of the $1 billion Williams Pipeline. Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

With the nation focused on the coronavirus pandemic and protests against U.S. police brutality that have sprung up across the globe, the Trump administration continues to quietly attack federal policies that protect public health and the environment to limit the legal burdens faced by planet-wrecking fossil fuel companies.

Read More Show Less
Photo credit: Black Birders Week seeks to highlight the experiences of Black scientists and nature lovers. Chad Springer / Image Source / Getty Images

A video of an incident in Central Park last Monday, in which a white woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on African American birder Christian Cooper after he asked her to put her dog on a leash, went viral last week, raising awareness of the racism Black people face for simply trying to enjoy nature.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Nationwide states struggle to recruit, hire and train game wardens. Jason Erickson / Getty Images

By Jodi Helmer

In Georgia there are just 213 game wardens to enforce state fish and wildlife laws, investigate violations, assist with conservation efforts and collect data on wildlife and ecological changes across 16,000 miles of rivers and 37 million acres of public and private lands. Statewide 46 counties have no designated game warden at all. The shortage could lead to wildlife crimes going undetected.

Read More Show Less