Australia bushfires could make 200 million-year-old ‘Jurassic’ trees extinct

Australia bushfires could make 200 million-year-old ‘Jurassic’ trees extinct

Determined environmentalists are desperately trying to save "Jurassic Park dinosaur" trees which are facing extinction as a result of the widespread killer Australian bushfires.

Australia's prehistoric Wollemi pine trees have been threatened by raging wildfires, promoting a secret government mission to save them.

The ancient grove of trees have survived up to now in three stands in just one remote canyon in a massive wilderness to Sydney's north-west.

They are thought to be the descendants of trees that stood tall among dinosaurs around 200 million years ago.

Having survived the dinosaurs, these ancient iconic trees were facing extinction from Australian bushfires.

The Jurassic period spanned 56 million years and started 201 million years ago.



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But in a covert firefighting mission, officials have been enlisted to save the prehistoric Wollemi pine grove.

Had the trees not been found in 1994, it is almost certain the endangered wild population of trees would have been wiped out without anyone ever knowing they still exisited.

The Wollemi pine trees now exist in a secret location within the 1930 square mile Wollemi National Park.

The oldest fossil of the rare pine species dates back 90 million years, but the trees are believed to have existed during the Jurassic period.

The top secret mission was to build an irrigation system and protect the critically endangered trees from bushfire at all costs.


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The New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean said: "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."

He added: "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."

But this military-style operation was not without its hardships.

One member of the team told 9News.com.au that just flying in posed a risk as smoke shrouded the pilots visibility and there was the descent itself to contend with.


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The source who wished to remain anonymous said: "Climbing out the first time, you realise this is a long winch – 72-metres to the creek.

"You can clearly see the Wollemi pines rising out of the forest and the burning ridges above."

They added: "The hole in the canopy you're aiming for is less than two metres wide so the pilot and aircrew are working hard to keep you on line under the downdraft.

"It takes a couple of minutes to get down and the temperature drops quickly as you pass through the canopy and into the creek.

"Once the helicopter is gone, it's eerily calm and easy to forget the large fires burning above you.

"Each time the wind changes and the gully fills with smoke, there's a little apprehension, but a quick call to the aircraft above brings relief."



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The mission first began in December as the ferocious flames from the Gospers Mountain mega-fire burned through the Blue Mountains National Park and encroached the gorge.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) firefighters and the NSW RFS worked alongside each other to set up an irrigation system, while large air tankers dropped fire retardant ahead of the blaze, and waterbombed the surrounding area to slow the fire down.

When the blazes were too close, the team were forced to retreat and waited to learn if the trees had survived.

Their efforts paid off and last week the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service announced the mission was a success.


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In a Facebook post the organisation wrote: "They've survived the dinosaurs, and they're surviving this season's bushfires.

"In fantastic news, the prehistoric Wollemi Pines have been confirmed as safe."

However, it is not only fire which threatens the species survival.

According to director of park operations for Blue Mountains National Parks and Wildlife Service David Crust keeping the location of the trees secret is perhaps one of the most pressing challenges.

Mr Crust told 9News.com.au: "Asides from fire, one of the biggest threats to the Wollemi pines is people coming into the site, where they can trample seedlings but more importantly – there's a high risk people would introduce diseases, like soil pathogens, and that could have a devastating effect to the population.

"We have been very, very careful to keep the site location confidential. It's actually an offense to visit the site, there are significant penalties for people who access it illegally."

To conserve the pine tree, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has propagated the species and distributed them to botanic gardens and commercially.

Mr Crust said: "We encourage people to grow them, they've been made commercially available and now there are Wollemi pines being grown in gardens all around the world.

"If you buy one and put it in your garden, you'd be helping to save and conserve the species."

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