"To go forward we need to encourage our children
in the way of the past. Fire must be managed and people must be on
the country to manage that and that's a job for the future."
Dean Yibarbuk, Bawinanga Corporation at the CRC
". . . when we're talking about fire management
in northern Australia, we're talking about management of the
effects of fire not fire itself. So fire management should really
be viewed as a way of managing land, not managing fire."
Alan Andersen, CSIRO TERC, at the CRC Fire
While land managers throughout Australia
continue to debate whether to burn or not to burn, those at a
recent CRC fire workshop arrived at an early consensus: burning is
an important and necessary tool to effectively manage the northern
savannas. Further, disregarding fire management may prove fatal to
individual operations and the health of the land.
The North Australian Fire Management Workshop, held by the
Tropical Savannas CRC in Darwin from March 24 to 25, drew more than
100 participants from as far afield as the Kimberleys to the north
Those at the forum quickly realised that regardless of which
region they came from or what sector of land use they represented,
all had a great deal in common when it came to fire management. And
their backgrounds were diverse: pastoralists, Aborigines,
conservationists, scientists, tour operators and representatives
from the military, tourism and mining sectors. All had gathered
together to discuss the use of fire as a land management tool in
the north Australian landscape.
One issue that was raised was common to all stakeholders:
wildfires represent a constant and growing problem. Today there is
less planned burning because fewer people are moving across the
land than they did even 20 years ago. That means a fuel load of
unburnt grasslands accumulates, raising the prospect of a wall of
fire sweeping across the landscape when ignited. There has also
been a decline in the technology of fire management especially
among pastoralists and Aborigines. "We've lost the library," was a
concern commonly voiced.
Discussions at the workshop identified a gap in communication
between neighbouring landholders, where neighbours often omitted to
notify each other of impending wildfires or planned fire
Speakers from various sectors drew insights from each other's
experiences: pastoralists like Jeff Baker from Mataranka station in
the Top End spoke at length about his meticulous burning
Others found that their philosophies on burning did not differ
much from traditional burning by Aboriginal landholders. All were
fascinated by Dean Yibarbuk's talk on traditional burning regimes
still practised in the region of his Maningrida homeland.
Scientists such as the CSIRO's Alan Andersen and the NT Bushfires
Council's Jeremy Russell-Smith spoke about how science and land
managers can work together for mutual benefits, discovering more
about the actual effects fire has on the savannas.
There is still much to learn. As zoologist John Woinarski, from
the Parks and Wildlife of the NT pointed out, many of the long-term
effects of wildfire on the region's biodiversity are still unknown.
Science will play an ever-increasing role in future north
Australian fire management. All attending were encouraged to use
the latest advances in technology to their advantage when dealing
with fire on the savanna.
Regularly updated remote sensing information can now be accessed
on the Internet. Home computers can play a practical role in
modelling wildfires or managed burns, and workshops like the CRC
event provide wide-ranging benefits to all stakeholders. They offer
a forum for an interchange of ideas that will hopefully lead to a
better understanding of the important relationship fire has to the
sprawling north Australian savanna.
A booklet on the CRC Fire Workshop is now available. Called
Burning Issues: In Our Own Words , it captures some of the
diverse fire management practices and perspectives across northern
Australia. Go to our Publications section to read more.
Photos: Dennis Schulz
Bushfires Council of the Northern Territory
Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA)bush fire brigades managed by local governments;career Fire and Rescue Service stations;volunteer Fire and Rescue Service brigades;State Emergency Service units;Volunteer Marine Rescue Service groups;Volunteer Emergency Service units; and Volunteer Fire Service brigades.
Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority (QFRS)Rescue - road accident and other types of rescue;Chemical and hazardous material management;Community awareness and education on fire and road safety issues Building fire safety inspection, investigation and prosecution;Administering legislation relating to fire and safety, hazardous materials facilities and hazard mitigation;Rural land management advice regarding the role and use of fire
Fire scene investigation;Alarm monitoring and response; andCommercial training in firefighting, fire safety and evacuation procedures.
QFRS services include:
WA Department of Land Administration NOAA-AVHRR satellite data