Huon pine trees live for 3,000 years but climate change could wipe them out in the next 50

Huon pine trees live for 3,000 years but climate change could wipe them out in the next 50

Huon pines are the oldest living trees in Australia and the second oldest in the world — only the North American bristle cone lives longer.

Huon pines can live for 3,000 years, meaning some were seedlings before the Greeks invented democracy and well before Julius Caesar was born.

Professor Tim Brodribb from the University of Tasmania is one of those concerned about what carbon dioxide emissions could mean for the giant tree.

"If the emissions continue to rise as they are at the moment, then this species [Huon pine] and a lot of species in Tasmania will be extinct in 100 years for sure," he said.

"The timescale [could be] 100 years or 50 years, depends on how our carbon dynamics work."

Professor Brodribb recently visited a Huon pine forest on Tasmania's West Coast with University of Melbourne scientist Kathy Allen.

Dr Allen has been using an instrument called a dendrometer to take data every 15 minutes to see how the trees grow.

She is also taking samples of the tree cores to study how the climate has changed.

She has observed that in the past 1,000 years, there were only a few hot summers — but that has changed since the 1950s.

"The change you're seeing since the 1950s record is unprecedented," she said.

Professor Brodribb also said the West Coast — where Huon pines grow — is facing a triple threat of increasing temperature, decreasing rainfall and more bushfires.

The old trees are rarely cut down but the timber is rot-proof, enabling sawmillers to salvage logs from the forest floor and river beds.

Sawmiller Bern Bradshaw, 90, has been working with Huon pines most of his life.

He thinks the scientists have got it wrong and that the trees will survive climate change.

Mr Bradshaw also looked at the tree rings of Huon pine logs.

"I think it's just coped with very warm weather and its also coped with very cold weather," he said.

But his colleague Dianne Coon is terrified about what could happen to the tourism industry and the timber industry in a region that is reliant on tourists taking cruises up the Gordon River to see giant Huon pines.

"If we are to lose something that takes so long to grow and embodies so much history it would be a shame on us all," she said.