The RFSA is to be congratulated in the continued support of volunteer firefighter, Michelle McKemey of Guyra Rural Fire Brigade, assisting her PhD research project, Cultural Burning: Using Indigenous practice and science to apply fire strategically.
Michelle started her PhD in 2014, her study involves investigation into fire ecology and empowering land managers to apply fire as a management tool.
Working with Bambai Indigenous rangers, Michelle is examining Indigenous cultural knowledge associated with fire management, as well as, conducting ecological experiments to improve understanding of fire on the landscape.
A short film detailing Michelle’s research has recently been published by the University of New England and her research group was awarded the CSIRO DNFC (Digital National Facilities and Collections) award for Indigenous Engagement. The RFSA is pleased to support Michelle’s valuable research.
Megafires, individual fires that burn more than 100,000 acres, are on the rise in the western United States, the direct result of unintentional yet massive changes we’ve brought to the forests through a century of misguided management. What steps can we take to avoid further destruction? Forest ecologist Paul Hessburg confronts some tough truths about wildfires and details how we can help restore the natural balance of the landscape.
The same can be said for Australia…
In this paper, Michael Eburn and his colleague Geoff Cary argue that the statement ‘Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire’ implies a duty on landowners to manage fuel on their land to reduce the likelihood of bushfires, however started, from spreading to neighbouring properties. However, the notion ‘Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire’ has not been analysed from a legal perspective. This paper reviews Australian law to identify who is legally responsible for fire that starts on privately owned land. We argue that the correct interpretation of existing Australian law is: ‘Whoever owns the ignition owns the fire’ – that is, liability to pay for losses caused by bushfire has always fallen on those that intentionally start a fire, not on the owner of the fuel that sustains the fire. That legal conclusion could have dramatic implications for fire management policies. It will be shown that liability for starting a prescribed burn is clear-cut whereas liability for allowing accumulated fuel loads to contribute to the spread of fire is almost unheard of. As a result, we argue that the law is pushing landowners in a direction away from the policy direction adopted by all Australian governments. After identifying the current legal position, we recommend changes to align the law with the national policy direction.
Governments and fire authorities needed to consider taking a more local approach, and introduce on the outskirts of towns and cities clever landscape designs that included irrigation and green fire breaks in the form of parklands, that could work in conjunction with burn-offs to help mitigate bushfire risks.
Across Australia, early Europeans commented again and again that the land looked like a park. With extensive grassy patches and pathways, open woodlands and abundant wildlife, it evoked a country estate in England. Bill Gammage has discovered this was because Aboriginal people managed the land in a far more systematic and scientific fashion than we have ever realised.
Fire is undoubtedly one of the most important factors influencing the health of the country, economic viability, and the cultural values of Cape York.
Indigenous people have supported biodiversity with knowledge-based fires for thousands of years, but wild fires can be very damaging.
Wild fires mean that ecosystems are injured and may be significantly changed, graziers lose pasture and stock, and erosion and sediment run-off can badly affect even the Great Barrier Reef. People managing their property as part of a fire carbon farming project also suffer significant economic loss.
Recently there has been a resurgence in traditional burning practices on Cape York.
This, along with the management of fire savvy graziers, Rangers, and other land managers, has seen big improvements in ecologically sound fire management, typically patchy in nature.
A core sample taken from a remote Tasmanian island suggests Aboriginal people were using fire management on the island at least 41,000 years ago, experts have said.
The findings by a joint project involving the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) and scientists could provide insight into how people adapted to changing climates.
The TAC invited fire ecologist David Bowman and Australian National University natural history professor Simon Haberle to lungtalanana/Clark Island in Bass Strait to conduct research after it was ravaged by fire in 2014.
They took a core sample from a lake on the island which contained charcoal and pollen.
From that they were able to reconstruct the island’s fire history by determining how often vegetation had burnt over thousands of years.
Arnhem Land – Aboriginal fire ecologist, Dean Yibarbuk, explains how traditional fire management practices have kept the country healthy for thousands of years. Recently, his mob have been working with local scientists to adapt the regime of traditional fire management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Vegetation Management Officer Phil Hawkey describes himself as “on a journey” as he increases his knowledge of Aboriginal traditional burning.
It began three years ago when Phil attended a traditional burning workshop in Orange, New South Wales.
“That was the lightbulb moment,” says Phil, “I tell people I’ve found something new that’s 30,000 years old. It’s done with method, with science, with great care,”
His knowledge took a giant step forward when he attended a traditional burning workshop in Cape York with Group Officer Len Timmins. Then in its ninth year, each workshop moves location. It means that, for his return to Cape York this month, there will be new lessons to learn amid different topography and vegetation.