Jurassic Bark: Vow to protect rare ‘Dinosaur trees’

 

New measures will be put in place to save a tiny colony of an ancient tree species that dates back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

One year on from a heroic rescue effort to save the Wollemi Pine colony from the Gospers Mountain mega blaze, the grove of 47 "living fossils" will be given special status by the state government to ensure they remain protected from future blazes.

With scientific research indicating the species will come under increasing threat as bushfires become more frequent, plans will be put in place to ensure no fires get near the secret grove where the trees will grow for the next 50 years.

Head of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Atticus Fleming, Environment minister Matt Kean and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at a secret Wollemi Pines colony on Thursday. Picture: Dylan Coker
Head of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Atticus Fleming, Environment minister Matt Kean and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at a secret Wollemi Pines colony on Thursday. Picture: Dylan Coker

The Wollemi Pine has now been declared an "asset of intergenerational importance" which will require state authorities to create long-term plans to protect them from bushfires and other environmental threats.

Deep in the Blue Mountains world heritage area, the grove is only accessible by a helicopter journey followed by an arduous bush walk.

Their location is so secret that less than 40 people in the world have been allowed to make the trek since the unique species was discovered in 1994.

Strict sterilisation measures are in place for anyone allowed to visit the site to prevent disease.

The Daily Telegraph was given exclusive access to visit the only Wollemi Pines in the wild yesterday, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian having her footwear sterilised by Berin Mackenzie, a scientist with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and member of the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team. Picture: Dylan Coker
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian having her footwear sterilised by Berin Mackenzie, a scientist with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and member of the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team. Picture: Dylan Coker

"I think it was pretty amazing to see something so old and a species that is pretty much prehistoric with the naked eye," Ms Berejiklian said.

Fossilised remains of the species date back 91 million years.

The trees standing in the Blue Mountains today are the same as that ancient species. The larger trees growing today are between 350 to 500 years old; one is thought to be up to 1000 years old.

"You're looking at a tree, (and) a tyrannosaurus rex was looking at the same tree," National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Deputy Secretary Atticus Fleming said.

Trekking into the location where the trees grow, husks of burnt out trees were a salient reminder of how close the Wollemi Pines came to being engulfed in flames last summer.

Ms Berejiklian described the day when the trees were under threat as "horrible".

The Wollemi Pine has been declared an “asset of intergenerational importance”. Picture: Dylan Coker
The Wollemi Pine has been declared an “asset of intergenerational importance”. Picture: Dylan Coker

The colony was only saved through a dramatic rescue mission involving waterbombing aircraft, a complex system of sprinklers, and a NWPS officer embarking on a one-man mission to douse flames burning inside the pine grove.

The Premier said it was vital to keep the species surviving in the wild.

"Because it's so close to us here we underestimate what a rare species it is, how significant it is, and also why it's so important for us to protect it, not just for us but for the world," Ms Berejiklian said.

The species is on the verge of extinction.

While the trees can regenerate stems that are lost to fires or other damage, it's still unclear how long it takes the species to reach maturity in order to reproduce and provide genetic diversity to the population.

NWPS Regional Manager David Crust said that if juvenile trees were impacted by fire in the next "20-30 years, potentially it will kill them".

"If we want the site to grow and expand we need to keep fire out," Mr Crust said.

Originally published as Jurassic Bark: Vow to protect rare 'Dinosaur trees'


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