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Australian Forest Fires and Why It Has Become Worse Over the Past Months

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As the world celebrates the start of a new decade, in Australia, the pomp and fun of welcoming a new year have been overshadowed by a mega-crisis. This has been due to the country’s 2019 fire season, which has proven to be exceptionally brutal and quite a challenge to control. Only a few days into 2020 and forecasts are still pointing to worse days as the Australian forest fires are expected to continue spreading. According to the national weather forecaster, it has been predicted that the nation’s east (which has been the hardest hit) will experience drier-than-average conditions until March or later. Essentially, this means that for the next three months, a lot of effort and input is required to manage the devastating fires.

For centuries, bushfires have been an intrinsic part of the Australian natural environment, and each year, there are varied fire-seasons expected in different parts of the country. The continent’s weather patterns are the defining aspects of where it is most likely that these fires to occur. Typically, in southern Australia, the risks are higher in summer and autumn. While for New South Wales and Queensland, wildfires are likely to occur in spring and early summer. Finally, in the northern territory, most wildfires occur in winter and spring. These fires have primarily been propelled by the fact that the Australian climate is generally hot and dry, with most parts of the country having lots of vegetation cover. As such, not only is most of the country fire-prone, but bushfires are highly likely to spread too quickly.

The 2019 Australian wildfires

There was an early kick-off to the fire season in 2019 in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, where the first incidents were reported in September. Since then, there has been a series of widespread forest fires that have continued over the months into 2020. While a typical fire season in the region extends from October to March, this year’s fires not only begun earlier but were much wilder. Within a month, these wildfires had already burned more earth than the damage that has been caused in the past two years. For many people, attention was raised by the Binna Burra fire in South East Queensland that destroyed 11 homes and the historic lodge. This was the wakeup call as the fire swept through the surrounding subtropical forest (a cool and wet region) in an unprecedented way.

Since then, wildfires that have started in different parts of the region have been extreme with blazes tearing through bushland, wooded areas, and national parks. While the fires affecting various areas are varied in size, there have been massive infernos that have affected hectares of land. These huge blazes have not been easy to contain, with some burning for months while covering more acres by the day. It has become worse as some of the massive fires have merged to create an ‘out of control situation’ for the firefighters. One of the complex situations that have been a challenge to manage has been the Gospers Mountain fire that at one point ballooned to over 1.2 million acres. The sheer size of such a single massive fire is in itself too demanding to be handled in a week or two.

What is making the fires so disastrous?

2019 has been the hottest year for Australia according to government records that show the country was +1.5° warmer than average. These record-breaking temperatures saw the country experience average highs of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit (41.9 degrees Celsius) in December. Not only was the country hot, but it was extremely dry, given the low rainfall recorded in the year. Even the annual monsoon rains that caused dangerous flooding in Queensland were behind schedule, and while it packed quite a punch, it did not last. As such, most of the country faced drought, with the vast forest covers having lots of fuel load and moisture. Therefore, immediately the fires started, they were bound to be more intense, given the underlying dryness and heat in the country.

The drought experienced in the country did not leave out the rainforest systems that are typically immune to raging fires because of the moist conditions. This has been the primary reason why areas that in the past never had to worry about Australian forest fires have equally been affected. It is not just the hot temperatures and dry conditions that have seen fires take a toll of Australia, but strong winds have aided them. The strong winds experienced in most parts of the nation have caused dangerous conditions as they have led to the quick spread of the fires. This has equally led to thick smoke that has greatly undermined the efforts by firefighters to contain the disaster. Together, these conditions have created the ultimate recipe for disaster. This has led to the worst fire season that Australia has ever had to deal with in decades.

Effects of the Australian wildfires

So far, more than 14.8 million acres have been destroyed by the Australian fires, making it shockingly huge. Compared to similar events that made international headlines recently, such as the Californian wildfires and fires in the Amazon rainforest, this is by size the largest. The New South Wales, which includes Sydney, has been the hardest hit as more than 10 million of the burned acres are in the state. Currently, the residents of Sydney and nearby towns are battling with poor air quality as the city has been engulfed by hazardous haze from the fires. 

The Australian wildfires have equally led to massive destruction of properties, loss of lives, and massive human displacement. Currently, reports show that more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed, with 20 reported incidents of death (including three firefighters who have died over this period). It is not only humans who have been affected, but tens of thousands of animals have had their habitats destroyed, with a significant percentage being killed. While scientists have not yet provided official reports, it is feared that several rare animal and plant species could be completely wiped out.

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Independent Travel & Ecology: What You Need To know

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independent travel
Image Credit : Justin Cleaver (Wildlife Photographer)

For most people, independent travel is more than just a fun activity or a holiday. It is a life-changing activity or experience. Whether you are taking off around the world after retirement, taking a gap year, or simply heading off on your mid-20s career break, independent travel offers you the opportunity to take a break from your ‘normal’ work life, travel around the world, and get unforgettable experiences. Also, traveling independently teaches you a lot about different parts of the world and yourself. 

What’s independent travel?

independent travel
Justin Cleaver

It is any trip that you organize by yourself. That means you must book a hotel (accommodation), plan your itinerary, transport, and other aspects of your trip. The concept revolves around traveling on a shoe-string, spending nights in hostels, and choosing experiences over luxury. Independent travel requires you to be more of a traveler and less of a tourist.

Tourist vs. traveler

independent travel
Mckenzie Kersen 

Most people use these words interchangeably. It might sound like a negligible distinction, but these two words signify a unique approach. The term ‘tourist’ often refers to a person visiting a specific area or region only for a short period before going back to their everyday life. It also relates to people who visit some destinations just to see exciting things without getting emotionally involved.

On the other hand, travelers spend a lot of time on the road and have less of a fixed objective in terms of timing and destinations. They can travel for an extended period, spend time gaining new experiences, and don’t rush to return to their everyday life. That means traveling is all about am exciting journey while tourism is all about seeing new things.

Travelers are more likely to stay in a single destination for a long time, perhaps working there. Some travelers end up settling in some of the regions they visit. Generally, the definition of a traveler emphasizes the journey rather than the excitement and pleasure associated with visiting new destinations.

The best places for independent travel

The world is your oyster, and in numerous ways, it is. Your choice of destination is influenced by many factors. Therefore, it’s important that you consider the following factors to ensure that you get the most out of your independent travel.

The objective

What do you plan to do? This might sound like an obvious question. But it’s the right one, to begin with. What experiences are you seeking? Do you desire to connect with like-minded travelers? Are you ready to spend quite some time away traveling and working?

Time

Do you have enough time to travel? Well, there is little point in heading to Fiji if you have a 5-day holiday. This is because you will spend a lot of time to get to your destination and have little time to explore it.

Therefore, it’s worth working out the travel periods between your desired destination early enough. This will ensure you have enough time to see around and gain memorable experiences when you get to your destination.

Financial resources

How much money have you saved for your travel activities? Once you have decided on the specific experiences you seek and created a travel plan, it’s time you consider the financial aspect of your travel activities. Money is the single most significant constraint on most plans. It is worth working out a budget before you start booking flights.

Safety

How safe is your preferred travel destination? Well, it might sound like most questions asked by mums. However, nothing can ruin your trip more than getting robbed, beaten up, or being kidnapped. Therefore, you should make sure that you are traveling to a safe region.

Independent travel is more than just a fun activity

Traveling independently opens your mind to new and exciting possibilities. Indeed, it helps you learn more about how the planet, get lifetime memories and have a lot of fun. Just think about planning a long trip to Africa to learn more about social change through experiencing the journey and discovering what we have all lost touch with.

Kenzie Kersen, a 24-year-old American model looking to promote a positive message about eco-tourism, wildlife conservation, and other aspects of the environment. In partnership with Justin Cleaver, a reputable wildlife and fashion photographer from South African to produce an eBook in SA that will be a mix of cool fashion photography (all on film) and wildlife photography (also on film). The reason for incorporating fashion photography and a social media campaign into this story is again to pull the interest of the young generation.

Justin Cleaver

These are some of the important initiatives that send a positive message about eco-tourism, independent travel, and the importance of environmental conservation to the world. Times are changing and planet earth needs our care. It’s time we start sending a positive message to the world like Kenzie and Justin are doing.

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Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

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Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Image Credit : newsroom24x7

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (also known as MoEFCC) was formed in 1985. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Government of India. The current Union Minister of MoEFCC is Prakash Javadekar. As the name suggests, MoEFCC is a nodal agency responsible for the accomplishment of policies related to the environment, forests, and climate change.

Duties of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change:

  1. Prevention and control of pollution
  2. Conservation and survey of flora
  3. Conservation and survey of fauna
  4. Conservation and survey of forests
  5. Conservation and survey of wildlife
  6. Afforestation and regeneration of degraded areas
  7. Protection of the environment
  8. Ensuring the welfare of animals

These above-mentioned duties of the MoEFCC are well supported by a set of legislative and regulatory measures, aimed towards the conservation of the environment. Besides the legislative measures below mentioned are some policies that also guide the Ministry’s work.

Policies that guide MoEFCC’s work: The National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development:

This policy entails the guidelines that will help to weave environmental thoughtfulness into the fabric of not just our nation, but in our development process as well. It also examines the nation’s development plans so that they are aligned with our environmental perspective. The policy explains the magnitude of our environmental problems and lists our strategies and action plans, some of them include:

A) Population control

B) Conservation of natural resources

C) Prevention of air and noise pollution

National Forest Policy:

The National Forest Policy of 1988 was launched was to ensure environmental stability and maintain the ecological balance of the country. Basic objectives of the National Forest Policy include:

A) Restoration of the ecological balance by massive afforestation, especially on the unproductive lands and preservation of the existing forests of our nation.

B) Conservation of the natural heritage by preserving flora and fauna.

C) Encourage efficient utilization of forest produced products and maximize substitution of wood.

D) Check for soil erosion.

E) Check the extension of sand-dunes in the desert areas of Rajasthan.

F) Meet the requirements of fuel-wood, fodder, minor forest produce, and small timber of the rural population.

Policy Statement on Abatement of Pollution:

This policy was introduced due to an increasing trend in environmental pollution. Air quality in the major cities of our country has deteriorated! Levels of nitrogen dioxide are increasing in urban cities with growing vehicle emissions. Water is polluted by four kinds of substances: organic waste, waste generated from industrial processes, chemical agents for fertilizers, and pesticides for crop protection and from degraded deposits. The goal of this policy is to control and prevent pollution with the combination of command methods, voluntary regulations, financial measures, and awareness promotion.  It further includes – waste minimization, reuses or recycle, improvement of water quality, natural resource accounting, institutional and human resource development, and many more.

National Environment Policy:

This policy aims at mainstreaming environmental concerns into all developmental activities. Few objectives of this policy are mentioned below:

A) Conservation of critical environmental resources.

B) Integration of environmental, social and economic development.

C) Ensure poor communities, which are dependable on environmental resources for their livelihoods, have access to these resources.

D) Judicious use of the environmental resources.

The MoEFCC also serves as the nodal agency in the country for:

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
  • International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
  • South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP)

The Ministry is also trusted with the following multilateral bodies for matters of the environment:

  • Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)
  • Economic and Social Council for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP)
  • South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC)
  • Global Environment Facility (GEF)

Sum and Substance:

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is accountable for scheduling, promoting, coordinating, and managing all the environmental projects and programs. The Ministry is liable for the conservation of biodiversity, lakes, rivers, trees, forests, wildlife, ensuring the welfare of animals and the prevention of pollution in order to control the climate change in the country. The motto of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is sustainable development and enhancement of human well-being.

Nature Talkies declaration: This content is written by the contributor. If you have any suggestion or want to update more information or report us then contact at info@naturetalkies.com  

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Giant Sequoia or Sierra Redwoods: The Most Massive Trees On The Earth

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Giant Sequoia
Image credit : Pixabay (nmnm)

The Giant Sequoia, the tallest trees on the plant, fills everybody with wonder. That a living thing can be so old and enormous is something unbelievable. Commonly known as Sierra redwoods, the largest tree of this family has the capacity to hold as many people as a stadium can accommodate.

History of Sierra Redwoods:

There was a time when redwoods grew all over the Northern Hemisphere. The most ancient redwood fossils unearthed are more than 200 million years old, belonging to the Jurassic Age. At present, there are 75 groves of Giant Sequoia scattered along Sierra Nevada’s western slopes, over 14,400 hectares of the landmass.

Why is a Giant Sequoia tree so huge?

The secret behind giant sequoia’s large size is its long life. They grow so huge because they live the longest. Also, they need a lot of water to thrive. The Sierra snowpack provides the trees with plenty of water as it melts in summer months. As they require well-drained soil, it is harmful to walk around their base as walking compacts the base soil around the roots.

However, giant sequoia trees are quite capable of protecting themselves against natural threats. They are too great to be blown over by the strong wind. The thick bark, rich in tannins, shields them against insect damage and fires.

The strong defense mechanism of Giant Sequoias against forest fires:

Giant sequoias are immune to forest fires due to several factors. Their fire resistant barks save them in times of forest fires. Their cones open after fires, thus facilitating the process of reproduction. So, whereas forest fires threaten the lives of other trees, they benefit from fires.

The larger trees are more resistant to damages caused by fire because of their thick, protective bark and elevated crown. But, as they live for centuries, repeated fire may damage the vascular cambium by penetrating the bark. Most of the larger giant sequoia trees have fire scars

Where can we find Giant Sequoia trees?

All the giant sequoia groves that have developed naturally are situated in the moist and un-glaciated valleys and ridges of the western slope of  Nevada range, present in California, in the United States. The altitude of the area is between 1,500 meters and 2,400 meters above sea level.

The northernmost grove, present in the Tahoe National Forest, is known as the Placer County Grove. The Deer Creek Grove, situated in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, is the southernmost grove.

The tallest Giant Sequoia tree:

General Sherman tree is at present the tallest among the Giant Sequoias inhabiting the earth. Situated in the Sequoia National Park in California’s Tulare County, it has an impressive height of 275 feet. So, it is as tall as a building of 26 stories. However, giant sequoias are capable of reaching a height of 310 feet.

General Grant, Lincoln, The President, Stagg, Genesis, Boole, Franklin, and King Arthur are among the largest giant sequoias.

How fast can giant sequoias grow?

The Giant Sequoia is the world’s fastest-growing conifer. Under favorable circumstances, they usually have 4 feet of vertical growth in their third year. The average growth rate for younger trees is 5 feet or 1.5 meters per year. In an ideal situation, with each year their growth rate increases steadily. So, in 40 years or less, a redwood tree can reach a height of 100 feet.

Some incredible facts about Sierra Redwood trees:

  • Giant sequoias are the largest living organisms on the earth.
  • Giant sequoia trees never cease growing as long as they live.
  • A Sierra Redwood tree can live as long as 3000 years.
  • They reproduce once every 20 years and need forest fires to open their cones.
  • There are 75 groves of giant sequoia left on our planet.

Conservation of Giant Sequoia trees:

There are several governmental laws to protect the giant sequoia trees. The National Park Service devotes much planning and thought to the conservation of these national as well as worldly assets. Road routes in the area are selected with great care. As giant sequoia trees have roots close to the earth’s surface, excessive trampling is not allowed near the trunks. There are barriers surrounding the famous trees that thousands of tourists visit every year, from all parts of the world.

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