The Mountain Ash rises from the flames
Seeds spread by helicopter have helped rejuvenate Mounain Ash trees in the Black Forest which were devastated by the fires of Black Saturday.PT3M23S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2zzlg 620 349 December 27, 2013
A thick wall of green surges upwards either side of the gravel mountain road. In many places the forest looks almost impenetrable, but every so often a wallaby suddenly emerges from the bush and hops across the road.
Soft green growth distinguishes a scattering of wattles among the trees, while at ground level there are vast numbers of bracken fern. But it is the tall rich green saplings whose curly upper leaves are tinged with red that dominate the forest regrowth.
Eucalyptus regnans, better known to most Victorians as mountain ash, is making a strong comeback in the Black Range above Narbethong. Today the trees are only about five to seven metres tall, which means they have many years of growing before reaching adulthood. Mountain ash, the tallest flowering plant in the world, have been recorded at more than 100 metres in height.
Emily Borton is impressed by the regeneration at Narbethong. Photo: Simon Schluter
When fire struck this forest near Marysville on Black Saturday nearly five years ago, it left behind a trail of destruction. Mountain ash are highly vulnerable to bushfire, and young and old trees alike were killed by the fierce blaze.
Today a few dead giants remain standing; their limbs, petrified by the firestorm, point in the direction the fire travelled. While thousands of dead, skinny young mountain ash, perhaps 15 metres tall, point to the sky like giant matchsticks stuck in the ground.
The young forest is evolving, thanks to a sowing program undertaken in the months after Black Saturday in which 3188 hectares of forest were sown by helicopter in areas devastated by the Kilmore East and Murrindindi fires. Most of the area, 1969 hectares, was sown with mountain ash seeds.
Department of Environment and Primary Industries forest and fire planner Emily Borton said the regeneration area looked very healthy.
''It's quite thick across the general area that we've sown and each tree looks quite healthy. It's got a good growth rate, it's quite a good height for 4½ years,'' she said.
In some places by the road where competition is not as fierce as inside the forest, the trees are so tightly packed together that a few saplings share the same square metre of dirt.
Because of the vast area burnt, the terrain and the need for a quick response to prevent other species taking over, a helicopter was used to sow the seeds. The low-flying chopper sowed the forest floor in strips 20 metres wide.
''It was very important to do it within the time frame that we did it. And if we hadn't have done it, then we'd probably see just masses of wattles coming up. There'd be very, very few mountain ash,'' Ms Borton said.
Departmental forest and fire officer Matt Kavanagh described the mountain ash regrowth as ''a great outcome''.
''There was not a living thing. It was completely black. So, to see it now … It's astounding how well nature bounces back,'' he said.