Environment specialists took to the skies recently to successfully confirm the presence of Southern Sassafras in the Bogong Peaks Wilderness in Kosciuszko National Park. The rugged mountainous country required a survey by helicopter to locate plants in forested gullies that flow towards the Goobragandra River.
Southern Sassafras or Atherosperma moschatum is a fire-sensitive tree. It has long been clouded in mystery regarding its existence in high altitude and cool temperate rainforest pockets like those found in the Bogong Peaks.
The survey was made possible thanks to a generous bequest by Kenneth Milburn to Landcare Australia, who have partnered with Greening Australia and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to identify and map the distribution of the Southern Sassafras rainforest tree.
Shane Norrish, Farming and Major Projects Director at Landcare Australia said, "This is an outstanding opportunity to learn more about the ecology and distribution of high country vegetation communities. It is often difficult to obtain funding for projects such as these, and the generosity of the Milburn bequest will make a significant contribution to the protection of important species such as Southern Sassafras."
Opportunistic surveys undertaken in 2011 by Greening Australia in the Bogong Peaks Wilderness Area confirmed the presence of Southern Sassafras further north-west than previously thought, but the extent was unknown.
"Identifying and broadening the known population boundaries of Southern Sassafras will have significant benefits for the species survival, and has important implications for park management activities including prescribed burning" said Matt White, NPWS Ranger for the Bogong Ranges.
Up until the time of the 2011 surveys, only a few populations were known to occur between 700-1300m altitude, and were usually found with Alpine Ash in sheltered gullies on the western fall of the main range of Geehi and Leather Barrel Creek, and in the Pilot Wilderness.
Further examination of remote sensing imagery had revealed additional potential occurrences in the Bogong Peaks, but limited access in the rugged terrain meant confirming these locations was almost impossible.
Greening Australia Project Manager, Nicki Taws, said, "The aerial survey enabled us to confirm the presence of Southern Sassafras in many locations that we couldn't have reached on foot. We are very grateful to Landcare Australia for supporting this critical work.
Looking to the future, Nicki said, "We look forward to continuing our work with NPWS in this area, determining the presence and extent of Southern Sassafras and progressing collaborations to include community engagement in the protection and enhancement of this stunning tree."