More than 10 percent of the area covered by New South Wales (NSW) national parks has been burned in this season’s bushfires, including 20 percent of the Blue Mountains world heritage area, state government data obtained by the Guardian Australia has revealed.
The amount of bushland destroyed within NSW national parks dwarfs that of the entire previous fire season, when 80,000 hectares were lost.
Ten times that amount has burned since July.
The damage caused by fire in the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area in the north of the state is a “global tragedy” and an “absolute crisis,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said.
The loss of 800,000 hectares in NSW national parks, out of a total of 1.9 million hectares burned in the state since July 1, “changes the calculus of nature conservation in the state,” Gambian said
The “monumental” scale of the fires means that conservation of land would now be “more important than ever,” Gambian said.
“National parks are the best way to protect species and landscapes, but when your national parks have been decimated, you have to look at the total picture and other measures,” council ecologist Mark Graham said.
As well as the losses in the Blue Mountains, concern has centered on the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area, a collection of reserves of subtropical rainforest that span 366,500 hectares across NSW and Queensland.
Graham, who specializes in fire and biodiversity, said that the fires there were “a global tragedy.”
“I don’t think that’s over-egging it,” Graham said.
Last week, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre expressed concern about the Gondwana fires and asked the federal government whether the damage was affecting their universal values.
Twelve of 28 NSW world heritage reserves have been at least partly affected by fire.
Until a week ago, Barrington Tops and the New England national park were the two largest blocks of Gondwana that had not been affected by fire, Graham said.
That changed after lightning strikes sparked fires in those areas.
“To be really blunt, it’s an absolute crisis,” Graham said. “Because they’ve been permanently wet and have never burnt right through, they’re like mountaintop arks of ancient biodiversity.”
“These fires have directly impacted upon the values they were listed for,” Graham added.
Further south, the Gospers Mountain fire has been burning out of control since last month in the Wollemi and Yengo national parks, part of the Greater Blue Mountains world heritage area, which covers 1 million hectares of national park and is dominated by temperate eucalypt forest.
As of yesterday morning, 118 fires were burning in the state, 48 of them out of control.
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