Category Archives: Fire Ecology & Management

Restoration of Tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) during prescribed burning in southwestern Australia

Katinka Ruthrof, Leonie Valentine and Kate Brown

Key words:  fire, regeneration, coarse woody debris, ashbed

Regeneration of Tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala), in many parts of its fragmented distribution in Western Australia, is nominal. Previous work has shown it has specific regeneration niche requirements, recruiting in ashbeds within canopy gaps. We conducted a field trial to determine whether regeneration could be facilitated by creating coarse woody debris (CWD) piles that would become ashbeds during a low-intensity, prescribed burn.

Regeneration experiment. Paganoni Swamp Bushland, a peri-urban Eucalyptus-Banksia woodland, was due for prescribed burning in 2011. Prior to the burn, twelve canopy gaps within the bushland were chosen to have CWD piles built up in the centre (5mx5m wide, 0.5m height). Six gaps were chosen to have no ashbeds, and so had any naturally occurring CDW removed. Adjacent to each plot (whether ashbed or no ashbed), an extra 5mx5m plot was marked out as a control.

The six gaps without ashbeds, and half of the 12 ashbeds, were broadcast with Tuart seed in plots of 5m x 5m following the prescribed burn.  Approximately 375 seeds/per 25m2 plot (after typical forestry seeding practice) were sown within one month of the prescribed burn.

The temperature of the control burn that moved through the area was measured in the gaps using pyrocrayons. These temperature-sensitive crayons were used to draw lines onto ceramic tiles. Five tiles were placed into each gap, either on the surface in the non-ashbed plots, or beneath the CWD piles, totaling 90 tiles.

Results. The majority of CDW piles burnt during the prescribed burning activities.  These piles burnt at high temperatures (~560Co) compared with the control plots (~70 Co). After six months, the ashbeds, especially those that were seeded, contained a significantly higher number of seedlings (0.7/m2 ± 0.3) than ashbeds without added seed (0.01/m2 ± 0.01) or control plots (0.0-0.05/m2 ± 0.0-0.05).

Lessons learned. Tuart regeneration can be facilitated at an operational scale as part of prescribed fire activities, through creation of CWD piles and broadcast seeding. However, higher rates of seeding could be used. Raking the seeds following broadcasting to reduce removal by seed predators may also increase seedling numbers.

Acknowledgements. Thanks go to the  State Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health, Murdoch University; Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation; and to Friends of Paganoni Swamp.

Contact: Katinka Ruthrof, Research Associate, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch, 6150, Western Australia; Tel: (61-8) 9360 2605; Email: k.ruthrof@murdoch.edu.au

A created coarse woody debris pile within a canopy gap, ready for the prescribed burn

A created coarse woody debris pile within a canopy gap, ready for the prescribed burn

A created ashbed following the prescribed burn

A created ashbed following the prescribed burn

Pyrocrayon markings on - a tile showing the temperature of the prescribed burn

Pyrocrayon markings on – a tile showing the temperature of the prescribed burn

Tuart seedlings recruiting following ashbed creation and broadcast seeding. Note that this is the same ashbed as in Figure 2.

Tuart seedlings recruiting following ashbed creation and broadcast seeding. Note that this is the same ashbed as in Figure 2.

Burning for pasture, biodiversity and culture

Key words: Indigenous land management, patch burning, grassland restoration, native perennial grasses

Russell Hill

This innovative project is trialing traditional burning values in the Lachlan catchment to provide agricultural, biodiversity and cultural outcomes.

Burning trials across the Lachlan will be conducted with 10 landholders. This partnership between the Lachlan CMA and the NSW Rural Fire Service will set up 8 Indigenous community fire teams for the project. These trials will provide vital information about interactions between fire tolerant and fire sensitive species and the long term dynamics of habitats under varying fire regimes.
Members of the community (Indigenous and European) will better understand how ecological communities can be managed to improve agricultural returns, resilience and enhance biodiversity.

Figure1. Lachlan CMA Traditional Burning Technical Advisory Panel members observing one of the Pitfall sites where 6-12 months of monitoring will take place prior to any burn.

Focus of the project
• Issues in the role of carbon storage by native grassland pastures,
• The loss of perennial native grasses in the landscape and
• The role of cool burn fires as a positive tool for future management in a landscape under the influence of climate change.
• The project will develop the NRM skills of Indigenous Australians
• Increase biodiversity and improve the resilience of natural environments

Traditional Mosaic Burning. The innovation of gaining knowledge through investigating the role that traditional Indigenous mosaic burning can play in the future of pastoral management has obvious benefits in resilience building in both pasture care and the farming community.

Potentially mosaic burning can be a simple tool to empower everyone as conservationists and promote sustainable land management change.
The importance of bringing back native perennial grasses in the design of more productive grazing programs is understood, yet we know little about the ecology of these grasses. Australian native grasses have evolved in an environment where mosaic burning was a positive management tool. It has been demonstrated in native grasses of northern Australia that appropriate fire can have strong productive consequences on growth and seed production.

Cool burning has the ability to drive the production of increased seed yield and higher protein; hot fires can induce negative growth in many native grasses and over a long period leads to a loss of perennial ground cover. This project will experimentally question the effects of fire on southern Australian flora (with a grass focus) and fauna over a 10 year period.

What is being done? The Lachlan CMA commenced working with communities in February 2011 through community information evenings, followed by visits to community centre’s and field sites. During the first year of the project community fire teams of Indigenous community members will be trained by the RFS in fire fighting. These teams will then assist scientists, Lachlan CMA staff and RFS in conducting experimental burns at 10
locations across the Lachlan region.

Figure 2. A ‘cool’ burn conducted in Lachlan catchment grasslands.

Ten properties containing eight treatments (4x 5ha 2011 Spring burns, 4 x 5 ha 2012 Autumn burns total = 40 ha), with five paired replicates will be used in the design (total burns & controls = 360 ha). In conjunction with the burns, field sites will be monitored for biodiversity using Indigenous community members supervised by biologists.

Contact:  Russell Hill, Catchment Officer, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Program Lachlan CMA, PO Box 726, FORBES NSW Australia, 2871. Tel: +61 2 6851 9514; Mob: 0428 423 991; Email: Russell.Hill@cma.nsw.gov.au

Natural and cultural resource management – The aspirations of the traditional custodians of the Bunya Mountains

Key words:  Araucaria bidwilii, Bunya, fire,  South East Queensland, traditional custodians

David Calland

Prior to colonisation, the Bunya Mountains was a place of large gatherings of the Aboriginal people of South East Queensland for the ‘Bonye Bonye’ festival; a time of feasting, ceremony, trading, betrothals and the settling of disputes. In years when there were heavy crops of the nutritious bunya nuts (from the native Bunya Pine, Araucaria bidwilii), invitations from custodians went out to groups towards the coast and to people as far away as the Clarence River in northern NSW and the Maranoa River over 350k to the west. Festivals took place from December to March and the last big recorded gathering was in the 1880s.

In August 2008 the first of a series of Stakeholder Forums were held on the Bunya Mountains of SE Queensland to discuss natural and cultural resource management issues and to explore ways for the Murri people of South East Queensland to become more actively involved in planning, research and on ground management of lands in the Bunya Mountains region.
Traditional Custodians from about twelve groups met with scientists, Government and Non Government Organisations and business representatives and as a result the Bunya Partnership Coordination Group (BPCG) and the Bunya Elders Council were formed to create Natural and Cultural Resource Management opportunities for Traditional Custodians.

Stakeholders on Mt Kiangarow (1126m).

Australian Government funding was secured to develop a Caring for Our Country Action Plan for the Bunya Mountains. The plan was published in late 2010.

In September 2009, a bid to the Australian Government for the Working on Country program was successful. This project is called the Bunya Mountains Murri Ranger Project. The project has employed 4 Indigenous Rangers, a Coordinator Ranger and a part time Administrative Assistant. The group is working collaboratively with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on the Bunya Mountains National Park and the Western Downs Regional Council on Russell Park.

The Bunya Mountains support a unique assemblage of plants, animals and ecosystems and have been likened to an island of biodiversity surrounded by an ocean of plains of mainly cleared farmland. They are a biodiversity refuge, harbouring ancient species, distinct plant and animal communities and more than 30 rare and threatened species.

One hundred and nineteen grasslands, known locally as “balds”, are dotted across the Bunya Mountains. These balds have important cultural significance as they were maintained by traditional burning practice.

The first traditional burn in 100 years; Bunya Murri Rangers 2010.

A large component of the project involves the management of fire on the grasslands through experimental burns of varying frequencies and intensities. Researchers and rangers are working to find the right fire regimes to maintain the open character and species diversity of the balds before they are lost forever.

Contact: Dave Calland, Natural Resource Officer -Indigenous Engagement, Department of Environment and Resource Management. PO Box 573, Nambour Qld 4560, Australia.  Tel: +61 4 5451 2401 Mob: 0427 427246, Email: david.calland@derm.qld.gov.au

Three action research projects: (i)Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways Fire Program, (ii)Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project and (iii)the Importance of Campfires to Effective Conservation – Cape York Peninsula Australia

Key words: Traditional ecological knowledge, natural resource management, Indigenous research, Indigenous training, fire management

Location and purpose of the projects. Kuku-Thaypan (Awu Laya) country is part of the Cape York bio-geographical region, Cook Shire, North Queensland.  Every year, areas of Cape York Peninsula burn through prescribed and uncontrolled fire in the late dry and storm seasons.  Although increasing, little burning generally occurs throughout the early dry season. The effect of fire on the environment is under study through a number of research initiatives including the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways (TKRP), the Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research project (KTFMRP) and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research”.  However, it is clear that more recent fire regimes are different to those practiced by traditional Indigenous land managers and that these more recent fire regimes do not ensure the maintenance of native vegetation communities that require specific fire management regimes or protection from fire.

Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop

Fig 1. Victor Steffensen Mulong Director with participants at 2011 TKRP fire workshop on Kuku Thaypan Country sand bank at Gno Coom – Saxby Lagoon – principal study site for the TKRP KTFMRP and The Importance of Campfires 2004-2011.

Prior to European occupation, for example, fire management in Kuku Thaypan country was carried out throughout the year for a variety of purposes. Traditional owners tended different ecosystems with burn regimes at different times of year and actively managed country to keep fire out. Various scales of between and within ecosystem burning resulted. Each implemented action undertaken in response to a suite of cultural and environmental indicators.

In order to understand the significance of Mo (fire) for Kuku Thaypan people it is necessary to recognise that every square inch of Kuku Thaypan country is embedded with cultural meaning, that their exists interconnectivity between all things; and that all things are animate and sentient. Fire is sacred and as such its use brings great responsibility. Fire maps have been developed for Early season, Dry season and Storm season fires over a ten year period from 2000 to 2010.
What we are doing. The TKRP, KTFMRP and the “Importance of Campfires to effective conservation research” projects have actively supported the ambitions of two senior Kuku Thaypan Elders, Dr. Tommy George and the late Dr. George Musgrave since 2004. The Indigenous Elders wanted to demonstrate the benefits of their fire knowledge, practically implementing fire to heal country while teaching others and recording it for generations to come and as such initiated their KTFMRP. This was the Elders’ response to seeing their country burnt “too hot, at the wrong time and in the wrong places.” Every year since 2004, the programs have  undertaken successful on-country Indigenous led and centered co-generative action research and training programs focused on fire management.

Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher

Fig 2. Peta Standley TKRP KTFMRP co-researcher working with 2011 workshop participants undertaking monitoring at a non-TEK burn site.

Achievements to date. The evolution of this work has led to the development of the TKRP Indigenous Fire training program in 2010 and the description of a research practitioner model for “integration” of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in contemporary resource management with a focus on fire and biodiversity. The TKRP fire program is educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource management practitioners and researchers from diverse communities across Australia in Traditional fire management and research practices derived from the recordings and teachings of the two Kuku Thaypan Elders. In each new community that engages with the program, TEK and western science fire and biodiversity knowledge is being shared, invigorated and co-generated through on-country action.

Dr. Tommy George

Fig 3. Dr. Tommy George monitoring the 2011 Fire Workshop on Kuku Thaypan country

Significance. The benefits of the program are not just for country, but also for people. The TKRP Indigenous research methodology embodies an ancient way to undertake cultural practice, where the right people have a voice to ensure that interactions with country and people are undertaken according to protocol, kinship and lore. This Indigenous methodology and the CAMPFIRES research practitioner model, applied in co-generation, have created unified ways to do research and culturally appropriate ways to bring Indigenous knowledge of fire and biodiversity into contemporary environment and resource management. Together they have worked with others on multiple pathways for engagement between TEK holders and western science knowledge holders that have been culturally relevant and naturally benefited country and community. One of the pathways is the Indigenous led participatory action research project – “Threats to Native Bees (Sugarbag)” which was initiated and led by the Indigenous participants.

Acknowledgements. Partners in the project include Mulong TKRP, James Cook University, and CSIRO.  Thanks go to the funding agencies, partners and supporters of the projects over the last eight years.

Contact: Peta-Marie Standley, Program manager, Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd, CSIRO Atherton. PO Box 907, Atherton Q 4883, Australia. Tel: 0418 198 244, Email: pstandley@capeyorknrm.com.au

The Hotspots Fire Project

Key words: Indigenous land management, fire, ecological burning, community education

Waminda Parker and Lana Andrews

Fire is a fundamental driver that continues to shape our ecological communities. Fire is also a fundamental component of Aboriginal cultural practice. Aboriginal communities throughout NSW are currently seeking opportunities to engage with contemporary fire management practices with an emphasis on revitalising and incorporating traditional knowledge to improve cultural and biodiversity management of their country.

The Hotspots Fire Project (Hotspots) is a NS training program which provides landholders and land managers with the skills and knowledge needed to actively and collectively participate in fire management for the protection of life and property while at the same time ensuring healthy productive landscapes in which biodiversity is protected and maintained. It operates under the guidance of the nine project partners in the Advisory Committee, and is delivered through the coordinated efforts of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Hotspots recognises that there are many long term benefits in supporting Aboriginal communities to revitalise their cultural fire knowledge and practices. These include, but are not limited to, reducing the threat and impact of inappropriate fire on Aboriginal owned country, improving fire management practices in support of optimising biodiversity conservation (therefore building in landscape resilience) and improving Aboriginal community health by enabling communities to re-engage and practice fire and biodiversity management.

Working with six Aboriginal community groups, Hotspots has developed a training program that caters to individual property fire management planning. These map-based property plans aim to explore ways to plan for and implement fire management strategies which address cultural, biodiversity and risk management values.

Already Hotspots has worked with three Local Aboriginal Land Councils (Cobowra, Darkingjung, Jali, and Wanaruah) and two Indigenous Protected Areas (Boorabee/Willows and Wattle Ridge). Hotspots continues to look for opportunities to maintain working relations with Aboriginal communities and already for 2012 Hotspots is aiming to work with Ngulingah and the Nambucca Heads Local Aboriginal Land Councils and the Mingaan and Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporations.

Contact: Waminda Parker, Hotspots Manager, Hotspots Program: Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Tel: +61 2 9516 0359, Email hotspotsfireproject@nccnsw.org.au; or Lana Andrews, Coordinator Hotspots Programme, NSW Rural Fire Service, Tel: +61 2 8741 5555, Email: hotspots@rfs.nsw.gov.au. For further information visit www.hotspotsfireproject.org.au

Fire management at Two Peoples Bay – Mt Manypeaks, Western Australia

Key words: environmental management, threatened species, collaboration, communication

Allan Burbidge

Fire management is a major challenge where there are multiple conservation values and potentially conflicting adjacent community values; the challenge is further exacerbated in landscapes involving rough terrain where access for fire management is difficult. All three factors occur in the Two Peoples Bay – Manypeaks area in south-western Australia, which is mostly conservation estate, with some water reserves, and surrounded by private land. In this often steep and rocky landscape, there are threatened vertebrates such as the Noisy Scrub-bird and Gilbert’s Potoroo, threatened plants and short range endemic relictual invertebrates, all with different habitat requirements, and therefore different management requirements. Superimposed on this are community values which involve the surrounding relatively small private holdings, with homes, timber plantations, stock and agricultural infrastructure

Bushfire on Mount Manypeaks (Photo: Ed Hatherley)

Fire management by the State conservation agencies in the area during the 1970s focussed on fire exclusion, as it was believed that this was optimal for the locally endemic and newly rediscovered Noisy Scrub-bird. However, this resulted in dangerous fuel levels, posing a threat to this species and other conservation values. Despite the need to reduce the threat, only minimal use of prescribed fire was able to be applied to manage fuel levels, because of the area’s difficult terrain and the requirements for many species for long interfire intervals.

Water bomber on route to fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

The problem seemed intractable until local managers, researchers, senior agency managers and policy makers were brought together to debate the options in a focussed meeting. After considerable debate, this group agreed that selected prescription burns in the untracked zones of Mt Manypeaks could be carried out and some patchy ignition could be initiated on the upper slopes by aerial ignition, in a way that minimised negative impacts on populations of threatened species. This in itself was a challenge, as virtually everywhere in the 28 000 ha study area provided habitat for at least one threatened species.

Noisy Scrub-bird (Photo: Alan Danks)

This process is ongoing and adaptive, particularly in the sense that wildfires extent and impact can never be predicted, but some key points have emerged. First, no single group had all the answers or expertise to understand the complex situation, underlining the importance for all practitioners to embrace dynamic and ongoing partnerships. Progress only came with co-ordinated and collaborative commitment from researchers, policy makers and managers. Second, we found that generalised models are inadequate for (complex) individual cases, particularly where there are multiple species of interest, and these species have different management requirements. Third, the old linear model of management was simply not functional; new knowledge and assumptions concerning the dynamic nature of the threatened fauna and flora populations demanded dynamic management, preferably in an adaptive management framework.

Mount Manypeaks after fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

Major players in this process have come from Nature Conservation Division and Science Division staff within the Department of Environment and Conservation, with species specific input from the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Team, Gilbert’s Potoroo Recovery Team and the Albany District Flora Recovery Team.  Strong collaboration with other land managers such as Water Corporation and plantation managers is essential for the successful management of the conservation interface with other land uses.

Further reading:
Comer, S., and Burbidge, A. H. (2006). Manypeaks rising from the ashes. Landscope 22(1), 51-55.

Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email sarah.comer@dec.wa.gov.au ) and Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email allan.burbidge@dec.wa.gov.au)