Aussie Controlled Forest Burns are now “Cultural Burns”?

Essay by Eric Worrall

Greens frequently oppose controlled burns to manage flammable forest fuel buildups. But would greens oppose the traditional wisdom of an indigenous “cultural burn”?

Esperance rangers hope cultural burns could buffer remote islands from climate change impacts

ABC Esperance / By Emily JB Smith

Figure of Eight Island was once home to Australia’s western-most breeding population of short-tailed shearwaters.

But the colony disappeared after a lightning strike sparked a fire that quietly ravaged the island in 2019.

Ms Graham, a ranger at the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, was part of the team who visited in 2020 to find the birds gone and habitat destroyed.

Three years after the blaze, they found little evidence of birds returning.

“Seabird colonies are actually pretty slow to recover,” Dr Lavers said.

But cultural burns could reduce their impacts.

“There’s an opportunity there … to do go in and burn around important assets like seabird colonies during the off season when seabirds aren’t there and when it’s cooler and wetter,” she said.

Read more:

The abstract of a paper published by the scientists;

Impact of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in southwest Australia: a case study for developing a community-based model in adaptive management

June 2022
Human Ecology 50(4)

Jennifer Lavers, Genevieve R. Carey, David R. Guilfoyle, Ron Reynolds

Traditional burning regimes have long been employed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate high-intensity wildfires. The link between changes in the distribution, success, and timing of breeding in seabirds and climatic and oceanographic variation in the marine environment has been established, with migratory seabirds less able to respond to climate variability than resident species. While climate-driven changes can also occur on seabird breeding islands, few data are available regarding potential impacts. Here we investigate the frequency and severity of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in Western Australia, regarding the 2020 fire on Figure of Eight Island in the Recherche Archipelago. A lack of quantitative, historical surveys limited our ability to quantify the number of shearwaters lost in this event. However, a review of available data suggests thousands of birds die due to burning every one or two years across the Archipelago. On Figure of Eight, shearwater burrow occupancy and density were low 12 months post-burn (0.25 and 0.02 ± 0.03, respectively), with minimal evidence of recovery (very few burrows detected) 23 months post-burn. We discuss opportunities to develop an adaptive, community-based program for reinstating collaborative, cultural methods of fire management and monitoring regimes on seabird breeding islands in Australia.

Read more:

Having traditional custodians of the land to ignite the controlled fuel burns in accordance to their ancient wisdom might help defuse green opposition to controlled burns, opposition which has likely contributed to the severity of recent devastating fires in Australia, the USA and Canada.

Reading the full article, it looks like government agencies who oversee land management are resisting the push to re-classify controlled fuel burns as “cultural burns”.

I hope those agencies come to their senses. So long as the controlled fuel reduction burns happen, who cares who strikes the match?

Embracing “cultural burns”, reducing the intensity of wildfires when they inevitably happen, might save human lives, in addition to preventing more endangered bird rookeries and animals from suffering the same fate as the short tailed shearwaters on Figure of Eight Island.

via Watts Up With That?

December 24, 2022 at 04:15PM

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