Secret mission saves rare "dinosaur" trees from Australia fires

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Secret mission saves rare Australian trees

An army of firefighters and conservation experts went on a secret mission in Australia to help save the Wollemi Pine — a tree that has existed since the age of the dinosaurs. Experts used fire retardant and irrigation techniques to protect the trees from the wildfires ravaging the country.

One scientist described the pines as "an Opera House of the natural world," Australia's Network 10 reports. As the smoke settled in Wollemi National Park, firefighters were thrilled to see the prehistoric foliage survived the blaze.

"They've survived the dinosaurs, and they're surviving this season's bushfires. In fantastic news, the prehistoric Wollemi Pines have been confirmed as safe, thanks to a secret mission by NPWS firefighters working in partnership with the RFS," NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service wrote on Facebook. Facebook/NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

The fire had been burning for two and a half months, but was finally brought under control this week. It has destroyed over 1 million acres northwest of Sydney, but the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Service closely monitored the blaze as it approached the so called "dinosaur trees."

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NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said the organizations did everything they could to save the rare trees. Each one was protected with a ring of fire retardant and an irrigation system, according to Network 10.

"Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them," Kean told The Sydney Morning Herald.

On Facebook, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service called the mission a "military-style" operation.

The trees were thought to be extinct until they were discovered in the area in 1994. "When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur," Kean said. The mission to save the trees was kept secret because pathogens brought in by other people could destroy the ancient pines.

"When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur," NSW Environment Minster Matt Kean said. Firefighters and conservation experts wanted to protect the trees at all costs. Facebook/NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

First published on January 16, 2020 / 12:03 PM

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