Working together to manage parks

13 April 2011 | Fact sheet

Australian Alps National Parks - Australia

Background:

Australia's alpine and subalpine environment is unique and special. The Australian Alps covers a variety of land uses however the most significant is the almost contiguous series of eleven national parks and other protected areas that span the across the state borders of Victoria, New South Wales (NSW) and the Australia Capital Territory (ACT). This area is collectively known as the Australian Alps national parks (see Map). These are predominantly IUCN Category II areas, large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.

In 1986, with the signing of the first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), NSW, Victoria, ACT and Australian government national park authorities formally agreed that the national parks in the Australian Alps should be managed cooperatively to protect the area's special character. This agreement provides an opportunity for indigenous Traditional Owners to reconnect with the Australian Alps which are culturally significant for ceremonial and spiritual purposes.

View images of the National Parks

Size and Location:

The Australian Alps, covering an area of 1.6 million hectares, occur in the south-eastern corner of mainland Australia, stretching hundreds of kilometres from Canberra to the Victorian highlands near Melbourne. They include regions known as the Brindabella Ranges in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales (NSW) and the Victorian Alps.

 Flora and Fauna:

The Australian Alps are a mountainous biogeographical region in a predominantly dry and flat continent, containing mainland Australia’s highest peak (2228 metres above sea level) and unique alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems. The region consists of extensive undulating plateaus, ridges and peaks surrounded by a dissected landscape of steep slopes, escarpments and deep gorges.

The geology of the Australian Alps differs to those of most mountainous areas as they were formed by passive uplifting as opposed to continents being forced together. The ancient land surfaces have weathered, rounded mountain tops with very few high peaks. The plants and animals across the Alps are found nowhere else in the world.

The diversity of vegetation in the Australian Alps provides habitats for a wide range of animals. More than forty species of native mammals, two hundred bird species, thirty reptiles species, fifteen amphibians, fourteen native fish species and many species of invertebrates call the Australian Alps their home.

A single tree genus – the Eucalypt is totally dominant through the Australian Alps, in fact all the way from sea level to the tree line at about 1800 metres. Animals such as kangaroos, reptiles (including snakes), wombats and emus are common but there are also rare and endangered animals such as the Corroboree frog and Mountain Pygmy Possum, once thought to be extinct.

Species from across nearly all Australian plant families grow here either in the eucalypt forests of the montane slopes or the open woodlands and herb fields of the alpine and subalpine plateaus. Although most of the plants of the Alps seem similar to those growing in other areas of Australia, the species that grow here have evolved special characteristics in response to this harsh environment.

Why protect it?

This region provides important ecosystem services including for culture, recreation, and water supply. The unique landscapes and Aboriginal culture, with many historic sites throughout the Alps, have played a significant role in post-European Australian history. This area is also an important tourist destination, with large ski resorts in Victoria and NSW. In a dry continent, the high rainfall and melting snow provides a significant volume of domestic and industrial water supply to South Eastern Australia, as well as Hydro-electric production.

 Threats:

A major threat to the Australian Alps is invasive species, particularly pests and weeds. Exotic weeds such as blackberry, English broom and willows, and animals like foxes, cats, pigs, horses and deer survive with few natural predators. Climate Change is another major threat with reduced snow cover, warmer temperatures, higher likelihood of bushfires and more potential for the spread of pests and weeds being a major challenge for the future.