Since the 1990s, native Ribbon Gums (also called Manna Gums) that once dominated the Monaro landscape, have been systematically declining in health across a stretch of land the size of the ACT
The exact cause of the Monaro dieback is still a mystery, but scientists fear that climate change may be to blame. The prolonged periods of drought and increasing temperatures the Monaro is experiencing are thought to be the potential cause for the outbreak of Eucalyptus Weevil – a tiny beetle which invades stressed gums in vast numbers and feasts on the leaves.
The underlying cause of that stress has been difficult to pinpoint but is likely to be a combination of factors including agricultural practices, altered fire regimes and climate change, all of which contribute to the trees’ slow decline.
The loss of the trees has had a devastating effect on local landholders, the landscape and wildlife. Several species of threatened woodland birds are particularly at risk including the Diamond Firetail, Scarlet Robin, Hooded Robin and Brown Treecreeper.
“The Monaro is a stronghold for these woodland birds that are becoming harder and harder to find in areas to the north. It is a last post for many of these species and the disappearance of the Ribbon Gums completely from the landscape would mean the disappearance of these birds too,” says Nicki Taws, Greening Australia Project Manager.
Over the last three years Monaro Tree Comeback has helped galvanise action across the region to address the devastating dieback of Ribbon Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis). Working with the CSIRO to understand causal factors and identify effective solutions, we have established six of our eight planned provenance trials on private landholdings across the Monaro. Climatic conditions since establishment have been challenging with a hot dry summer, sudden often violent storm events, and the prospect of another dry winter. The seedlings have proven to be remarkably resilient over the first year with outstanding survival at some sites. It is too early yet to detect differences in survival and growth of the 16 provenances but monitoring will continue each year.
The difficult climatic conditions only increase the imperative to restore habitat, shade and shelter for the region’s wildlife, landholders and their stock. Through our partnership with Upper Snowy Landcare we have planted more than 8,000 native trees and shrubs to help replace lost habitat and improve connectivity across the landscape.
In a novel approach to engaging the local school students we recently conducted an art and environmental workshop. Internationally-renowned artist Sharon Field brought her exquisite artwork on the dieback and explored with the students their artistic responses to the issue. We then had the students planting trees and shrubs as a means of taking positive action against the dieback. Sharon has taken the story of Monaro Dieback to the world with a presentation to the American Society of Botanical Artists. A series of similar workshops with schools will be carried out this year.
The project has held several workshops with indigenous elders to introduce landholders to traditional burning techniques and explore how these techniques can be used to improve the long-term health of grassy woodlands.
An exciting outcome of Monaro Tree Comeback is the involvement of additional partners in providing funds to address the dieback. Officeworks through their Restoring Australia initiative have committed to establishing a further 20,000 trees across the Monaro Region this year.