Bushfires are in mind at the moment given recent fires in the area. In Australia, land management with fire is a deep tradition. Aboriginal culture used fire strategically for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.
Paleontological evidence indicates Australia was covered by mostly rainforest millions of years ago. Gradually the continent dried and Eucalypt and Acacia trees came to dominate the landscape in many places. Both these large groups of trees are fire-adapted – and favoured by burning.
These days, we struggle every year to control wild fires and try to minimise damage from them. Damage caused to flora and fauna by late season burns can be significant. Sadly, nearly all out-of-control fires are lit by people – either carelessly, in ignorance, accidentally or with malicious motives.
Burning is often viewed as the cheapest and easiest way to manage land. Pastoralists regularly burn vast tracks of land to control weeds and promote new growth. From their perspective, burning has served Australians well.
Climate change introduces a new factor into the equation. Though Australia doesn’t currently include carbon dioxide emissions from fires in their total emission figures, we already have one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world.
There was pressure in Copenhagen to include emissions from fires and farming in Australia’s figures. Though this didn’t happen, the scale of those emissions ensures the issue won’t go away.
At a local level, we should aim to live harmoniously with our natural environment and to use fire intelligently.
If you do live in a bush fire prone area, put in fire breaks around what you wish to protect. Allow access for a fire engine. Keep breaks slashed rather than as bare earth to prevent erosion – or use livestock to keep grass at bay.
Re-vegetate weedy patches, especially if they’re in an area where rainforest would be the natural habitat. If you think it’s necessary to do a hazard reduction burn, check if there’s a total fire ban and remember to get a permit for fires bigger than 2 x 2m from your fire warden.
Burn in May so you don’t turn your hazard reduction burn into a habitat reduction and mass cremation of wildlife. As a property owner, you have a legal responsibility to stop any fire leaving your property no matter where it starts.
Last but not least, join the local Rural Fire Brigade! As well as helping your community as a whole, this empowers you in the event of a fire and you learn how to protect yourself and your property.