Fire fighting mission saves prehistoric pines

A specialist team of remote area firefighters have helped to save the prehistoric Wollemi Pines from this season’s bushfires, confirmed Environment Minister Matt Kean.

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) adult trees

Mr Kean said the Wollemi Pines survived the dinosaurs and now they look like they’ll survive these bushfires thanks to the work of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) firefighters and the NSW Rural Fire Service.

“Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them,” Mr Kean said.

“The pines, which prior to 1994 were thought to be extinct and whose location is kept secret to prevent contamination, benefited from an unprecedented environmental protection mission.”

The operation included large air tankers laying fire retardant and specialist firefighters being winched into the remote site from helicopters to set up an irrigation system in the gorge to increase moisture content of the ground fuels.

In advance of the fire, NPWS firefighters were again winched into the site to operate the irrigation system and as the fire approached, helicopters water bucketed the fire edge to reduce its impact on the groves of trees.

Mr Kean said the NSW Government has done a detailed scientific assessment and, while some trees are charred, the species has survived this summer’s fires.

“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.”

Mr Kean said the full impact of the fire may not be known for some time so we need to do everything we can to ensure their long-term protection which really depends on maintaining confidentiality around the trees’ location and ensuring the public’s cooperation in not attempting to visit the sites.

“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.

Photos available at Dropbox: Wollemi Pines. Vision available Vimeo: Wollemi Pines 2020 (password: NPWSpines)