On January 13, a series of dry storms passed over Tasmania, setting fire to the state's northwest with lightning strikes. These spot fires smoldered through some 73,000 hectares of alpine vegetation and temperate rainforest, a lot of which will come back slowly, or not at all.
Much of Tasmania's World Heritage area is too wet and high-altitude to burn, allowing plant species to evolve without fire. While these conditions have helped to create distinctive forests, they've also left the place vulnerable to climate change.
In the past weeks, there's been a lot of blame leveled at climate change for the current condition of the World Heritage area. Of course, climate change is the sort of insidious threat that can't be held definitively responsible, but things like warmer springs and summers, which allow peat and forest landscapes to dry out, coupled with an increase in storms, which provide a source of ignition, make it a prime suspect.
Tasmania's forests are precious because they evolved in isolation, unaffected by settlement until recently. The heritage area's 1.6 million hectares contain some of the deepest caves in the country and some of the oldest and tallest living plants on the planet. Then there are hundreds of archaeological sites, many holding evidence of how indigenous people lived through the last ice age.
For scientists and conservationists, these photos depict a journey toward an extremely sad future.