During autumn and winter this year, a series of fire management workshops were delivered by Victor Steffensen and Leeton Lee from Firesticks Alliance on four Land for Wildlife properties and several council reserves across the Lockyer. Victor Steffensen is one of Australia’s leading fire practitioners and learnt from Traditional Elders about their fire management techniques that have been used to manage this country for thousands of years.
Victor has a detailed understanding and love of the Australian bush and the ways of the Indigenous ‘Old People’ who inhabited this land before colonial influences. Fire is an essential part of the landscape and can either be used for good or can result in devastating damage such as the 2019/20 wildfires which swept the country.
Using fire in a way that is appropriate and ideal for a particular landscape can promote so many positive ecological factors. By engaging Indigenous fire practitioners to undertake cultural burning there is also a huge positive social community aspect of getting people back on country and in touch with their land and the community that now lives there.
Victor Steffensen and Leeton Lee deliver fire management workshops in the Lockyer with Yuggera Ugarapul Traditional Owners from Wirrinyah Conservation Services, members of the local Qld Fire and Emergency Services and local Land for Wildlife landholders.
Numerous properties in the Lockyer, including several large Land for Wildlife properties, were severely burnt in the wildfires causing untold injury to ecosystems, wildlife, infrastructure, landholders and their communities. In total, approximately 22,000 hectares were impacted by the 2019 wildfires in the Lockyer Valley. These workshops were delivered by Lockyer Valley Regional Council as a priority project identified by the NRM Working Group with funding from the Federal Government’s Bushfire Recovery Exceptional Assistance Immediate Support Program, Category D.
The workshops aim to reintroduce Indigenous fire management to:
- Make the landscape resistant to devastating wildfire.
- Increase the diversity of native ground cover species especially grasses, forbs and herbs.
- Protect and support the large ‘Elder’ old growth (veteran) trees.
- Increase food sources for native animals and humans in the landscape and thereby increasing the productivity of the land.
- Make the land more resilient to weather fluctuations.
- Get Traditional Owners and current landholders on country to build a greater connection to the land.
This is achieved by:
- Dividing the landscape up into ‘burn’ and ‘no burn’ zones.
- Introducing fire to the vegetation at times of optimal soil moisture and when the ground cover/ shrubby vegetation has only just begun to dry out.
- Using wetter parts of the landscape to act as natural fire breaks, so that fire lit in an area of the land where the vegetation is just right to burn will progress slowly to a wetter part of the landscape and will naturally be extinguished.
- Using fire to manage and reduce the prevalence of weeds.
- Using fire to manage and reduce unwanted native plants that are not meant to be in the particular type of forest.
- Using fire to reduce tree saplings as too many juvenile trees can lead to negative impacts on the old growth trees through competition for resources.
- Burning particular parts of the landscape at certain times of the year so that there is always green grass somewhere that can be accessed by grazing animals.
- Using a general rule of burning the upper, rocky areas of the land first (as these areas dry out first in summer) and progressing down the slope towards the wetter areas that are the last to dry out.
- Generally avoiding hot fires as these encourage vegetation that rely on hot fires (e.g. wattles and suckering vegetation) and promote more hot fires.
- Reducing a build-up of leaf litter and sticks on the forest floor as these lead to hot fires. Too much leaf litter also prevents germination and growth of herbs and forbs.
- Logs are retained in the landscape during cool fires as there isn’t enough heat when burning native grasses to ignite the logs and large branches on the forest floor.
- Small animals are able to escape the slow-moving fire in a cool cultural burn, with a single ignition point and patchwork burn.
- Eucalypt trees benefit from the white smoke produced by cool fires as this cleans the trees and reduces impacts from insect attack.
To achieve this a detailed understanding of the different vegetation types, native plants, fauna, rainfall patterns and geology is required. A vision of what the landscape should look like (pre-European colonisation), i.e. what plants should be there and what plants shouldn’t be there is also required. This can be done through:
- A burning plan to help progress from a ‘sick’ vegetation state (e.g. overgrown with weeds or high litter build-up) to a healthy state (understorey of native grasses and forbs and herbs).
- Extensive training and experience in managing the land through the use of fire. The Firesticks Alliance has developed a certified training course which is delivered in conjunction with TAFE around Australia that takes three years to complete.
- Monitoring of the results of burning to assess the changes in vegetation, species diversity and density of cover.
- Cooperation and collaboration among members of the community.
Land for Wildlife members who are interested in cultural burning are strongly encouraged to buy Victor Steffensen’s book Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia. Lockyer Valley landholders can register their interest in participating in a cultural burn in the future using this QR code.
Catchments Project Officer
Lockyer Valley Regional Council