Fire-ravaged environment may 'never recover', expert warns
As a mega-fire continues to burn in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area near Sydney, concern about the future of some of the region's unique flora and fauna is increasing.
Local plant and animal rescue groups have been swinging into action to help with recovery, but one expert has warned that the environment may "never recover".
"It will take decades or even centuries to recover," said Brajesh Singh, an ecosystem ecologist at the Hawkesbury Institute.
"And the rate of recovery will also depend on rainfall in the next few weeks, months and years.
"Action should be taken reduce greenhouse emissions, move to a carbon neutral economy and reduce the rate of global warming."
Professor Singh has been studying biodiversity and how it has been affected by climate change and fire.
He warned that studies of similar environments in the United States show that more frequent and intense fires can destroy the seed bank and some areas never fully recover.
"So different [grassland] species of plants come into the picture."
Rare species under threat
The Gospers Mountain fire raged for 77 days across over 500,000 hectares until it was contained by firefighters in early January.
It had a devastating affect on wildlife according to Antonia Revece from the local Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
She said she had seen considerable loss of kangaroos, wallabies, possums, insects and marsupials.
"It's fairly bleak when you drive around — a lot of the smaller shrubs have been burnt into the ground.
"A lot of the larger birds have survived; we're seeing clusters of cockatoos, lorikeets, parrots.
Ms Revece said the loss of vegetation was displacing the wildlife that had survived the fires.
"Small birds have less places to hide from predators," she said.
"With crowning fires, incredible heat, fast moving, there were very few places of safety or refuge and huge damage to nesting sites, while the ground was incredibly hot for days after.
"We've hardly found any sigs of possums. Considering the number that live out here, we're not seeing the equivalent of that being taken into care."
Plant species 'wiped out'
The Wildplant Rescue Service in Katoomba has been running a nursery and a seed bank to supply native plants from the local area to the public as well as Bushcare and Landcare groups, councils and state government agencies.
The coordinator, Tanya Mclean, was concerned about the survival of some of the unique species of plants that only live in the area.
Ms Mclean was also concerned about the animals that depend on the forest.
"Lack of food will be a problem for the next three to five years, especially those that are arboreal like possums, sugar gliders and lizards that live and eat trees and plants," she said.
Native animals were also vulnerable after fire to predators like cats and foxes, so some food and water stations would be raised off the ground to provide some protection.
One expert has said it may be a good opportunity to cull feral animals.
Andrew Cox, the chief executive of the Invasive Species Council, said now is the time to reduce the population of deer, pigs and goats in New South Wales and Victoria while their cover is reduced and they gather around remaining water sources.
"And aerial shooting should definitely be part of the mix."