A specialist team of remote area firefighters is helping to save the prehistoric Wollemi Pines from the ravages of Australia's devastating bushfires. The pines are known as “dinosaur trees” as fossil records show they existed up to 200m years ago and there are fewer than 200 left.
According to environment minister, Matt Kean, the firefighters have saved the only known natural group of these trees in Wollemi National Park in the northern Blue Mountains and Lower Hunter regions of New South Wales. This is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild. They were thought to be extinct prior to 1994, and their exact location is being kept secret to prevent contamination.
The specialist operation involved the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Services, and it included large air tankers laying fire retardant in advance of the fire approaching. Firefighters were also winched into the remote site from helicopters to set up an irrigation system in the gorge to increase the moisture content of the ground fuels.
As the fire approached, they were again winched into the site to operate the irrigation system, and helicopters dropped water from buckets at the fire edge to reduce its impact on the groves of trees. As a result, while some trees are charred, the species has survived the fires, although the full impact of the fire may not be known for some time.
“The 2019 wildfire is the first-ever opportunity to see the fire response of mature Wollemi Pine in a natural setting, which will help us refine the way we manage fire in these sites long-term,” says Matt Kean. “Illegal visitation remains a significant threat to the Wollemi Pines survival in the wild, due to the risk of trampling regenerating plants and introducing diseases which could devastate the remaining populations and their recovery."