Victoria's Alpine National Park is the largest and one of the most magnificent in the state, covering a full 6,474 square kilometres of the Great Dividing Range. Stretching from the small Victorian town of Mansfield towards the New South Wales border, it is also home to a number of popular snowfields such as Mt Bogong and Falls Creek.
The high numbers of visitors to the park provide a significant boost to the region's economy, benefitting local businesses and their employees. But to continue wooing the tourists, this important economic and environmental resource must be managed carefully and sustainably throughout the whole year.
"We face a number of land-management challenges where we have to balance the needs of the business, safety and the environment," says Ben Derrick, Director of Economic Development and Land Management at Falls Creek Alpine Resort.
His job includes harmonising the demands of tourists with the need to protect the environment for future generations. Working in one of Australia's least forgiving yet most stunningly beautiful places, it's a role Ben is passionate about.
"My job is fantastic," says Ben, who was previously a semi-professional cross-country skier. "Not only is the work stimulating and rewarding, but I also get to work in an environment that I love."
Long-term monitoring sites
Local managers like Ben are in luck: six decades of scientific monitoring effort has been invested in capturing how Victorian alpine ecosystems work and how they respond to different kinds of disturbance, such as fire, grazing, development, invasive species and climate change.
The network of long-term alpine ecosystem monitoring sites, some of which were established in the 1940s, and which are now supported through the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTERN), is delivering data to help underpin understanding of the area and its needs.
The findings are having a major influence on decision-making for the ongoing sustainable management of Alpine National Park. Moreover, they are also greatly valued by local businesses such as Falls Creek Alpine Resort.
"Having robust science on which to base our weed or fire management programs means we have much greater confidence that the effort we put in will deliver the desired outcome in an efficient way," says Ben.
Detailed knowledge of the fundamentals of ecosystem structure and function via decades of persistent ecological monitoring means those overseeing the park can more efficiently and effectively manage the land for sustainable use.
It is a great story of data being reused to balance the needs of business, safety and the environment. It is also important to remember that 60 years is a relatively short time in the Alps, and there are still many things we don't fully understand.
Long-term monitoring is vital for increasing our knowledge, anticipating change and managing the alpine environment sustainably. Who knows what else the data will tell us over the next 60 years?
With thanks to the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN). Based on an original story published in the TERN newsletter.
Image: Ben Derrick skiing at Falls Creek (courtesy Ben Derrick, all rights reserved)