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Bushfire 2016

Fire Ignites Ecology Conference

Dangerous bushfire weather is set to worsen with climate change according to climate scientists.  This places landholders directly in the firing line, with the majority of bushland in Australia in private ownership and not managed by state or federal agencies. 

In the last week of November, over 700 ecologists met in Brisbane for the annual conference of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA), which showcases the best and most innovative ecological science in the nation.  HLW’s long-term fire program, the South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium (SEQFBC) was invited by ESA to host a fire forum in conjunction with the conference.  ESA aims to help close the gap between scientists and practitioners by supporting events that provide opportunity for collaboration, sharing of stories and networking.  The ESA sponsored event provided SEQFBC partners and associates with subsidised attendance, which was very well received with over 160 SEQFBC registrations.

Image: The SEQFBC Fire Science Forum 2018. Connecting fire science with land managers, fire officers, land use planners and traditional owners. Image  by Ellie Chadwick, Healthy Land and Water (HLW).

With a focus on fire management and private land conservation, the SEQFBC sought to showcase projects that support successful partnerships between private landholders and public land managers or other stakeholders, including projects from Bunya Bunya Country Aboriginal Corporation, Bush Heritage Australia, Land for Wildlife, local government, threatened species, Queensland Trust for Nature, University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland.

There was a buzz in the air as the event began, with the news of devastating fires in central Queensland preventing some people from attending.  However, SEQFBC supporters and ESA attendees alike attended in droves and as word spread throughout the conference, the room became more crowded throughout the morning until there the room was at its 220-seat capacity. Post-presentation question time was busy for each speaker and there was much chatter and swapping of business cards and numbers after the event.  The speakers provided a great energy to the room and it was hard work for SEQFBC Manager, Dr Sam Lloyd to keep the event running to time.

The key is working with private landowners who own the vast majority of bushland in Australia and face an ever increasing threat from bushfire. There is an enormous amount of knowledge out there in the community and as scientists and land managers we need to get a lot better at building trust and initiating partnerships that empower landowners to better manage fire risk for the protection of life, property and the environment,” said Dr Sam Lloyd, Manager of the SEQFBC. 

Keynote speaker, Richard Geddes (National Bushfire Manager for Bush Heritage Australia) inspired us with his breathtaking landscape photos illustrating the contrast between devastating unplanned wildfire and carefully managed planned burning.  He discussed some of the challenges facing private land manages, including working to improve fire regimes by reducing the extent and severity of large unplanned fires, which may take years and not initially align with ecological objectives or political funding cycles.  He highlighted partnerships with indigenous land managers and how traditional aboriginal burning practices were essential to success.

Image: Richard Geddes of Bush Heritage Australia talking about the importance of working with the Traditional Owners of the land. Image by Ellie Chadwick, HLW.

City of Gold Coast showed us all how we should all be undertaking meaningful fire associated flora and fauna monitoring (including invertebrate pitfall trapping and identifying ants to morphospecies), showcasing a meticulous fire monitoring project in Austinville Conservation Area, with some very interesting results, including variation between burnt and unburnt sites in species composition. 

A favourite presentation of the day was a partnership spanning 40 years between private landholder, Di Collier (Connondale Ranges, Sunshine Coast), Sunshine Coast Council and the Land for Wildfire Program.  Land for Wildlife Program Manager, Deb Metters provided an overview of how the 20-year old program illustrates the value of longevity and how Land for Wildlife officers work with landholders to support their conservation efforts and tackle land management issues.  Di was a vibrant and engaging speaker and people were very moved by her journey from someone who initially “hated” fire (because of the mismanagement she had experienced firsthand) to someone who actively utilises fire as a land management tool.  For Di, an unplanned wildfire in 2000 provided an opportunity for some timely weed management, the success of which encouraged her to explore fire more, including attending an SEQFBC Fire Management Planning workshop where she developed her own fire management plan.  She told us her aim was to maintain tall eucalypt forests with a grassy understory by limiting intrusion of rainforest plant species, thereby helping her successfully manage Bell Miner Associated Dieback.  Di has undertaken three successful environmental burns in partnership with her local Rural Fire Brigade and seen marvelous results, especially in the flourishing understory of herbaceous plants and the increasing variety of grasses. 

Image: Land Owner Di Collier provided a practical examples of how she uses fire across her landscape. Image  by Ellie Chadwick, HLW.

“The strategic use of fire as a property management tool has been the element that has put the icing on the cake as far as rehabilitating my property.  Over time as my land has changed I have become a changed person too, where I feel more connected to the landscape and in conversation with it, listening to its gentle whisperings”, Di Collier.

Another favourite was the presentation by Kerry Jones and Lyndon Davies (Kabi Kabi First Nations decedents) of Bunya Bunya Country Aboriginal Corporation (BBCAC) and Susie Chapman of HLW.  Again, showcasing the value of collaboration, this presentation spoke about the successful partnership between BBCAC, HLW and Stockland at their Caloundra South development, Aura.  Kerry and Lyndon spoke about the value of reintroducing traditional fire management practices back into the landscape, the importance of Stockland’s willingness to partner and some of the innovative work they have been leading, including the development of an indigenous Fire and Food Calendar.  

SEQFBC Student Research Scholarship recipient and PhD candidate Justin Collette, together with his supervisor, Dr Mark Ooi (University of NSW) spoke about their project on the threatened Boronia keysii and how a partnership with Qld Parks and Wildlife Service (facilitated by the SEQFBC) provided the project with additional sites, species and planned burn opportunities.  Justin also spoke about the value of a soil-stored seed bank and how it is intrinsically tied to fire frequency (i.e. plants must be given time to grow, flower and produce seeds to be stored in the soil before a fire passes through and potentially kills them).

University of Queensland PhD candidates, Susie Fifoot and Carla Archibald spoke about the challenges and value facing private land holders with regards to conservation and fire.  Including Susie’s discussion on fire in the peri-urban landscape and Carla’s assessment of the value of private land conservation and implications for fire management.  Both speakers emphasised the importance of collaboration between private landholders and public land management and fire agencies.

Program Manager at Queensland Trust for Nature, Tanya Pritchard provided the perfect ending to the forum, reflecting on the value of fire as a land management tool, the challenges facing private land managers, closing the gender gap between men and women active fire managers and the privilege of being able to engage with young people through education programs that encourage them to be curious about their environment and connect with nature.

Image: Kerry Jones and Lyndon Davies (Kabi Kabi First Nations decedents) of Bunya Bunya Country Aboriginal Corporation (BBCAC) speaking passionately about bringing back traditional fire management practices in the Sunshine Coast area. Image  by Ellie Chadwick, HLW

The essence of the day was perfectly captured in this quote by indigenous fire practitioner Lyndon Davies, "We're still here today and we've all got a job to do. The plants and animals don't care who does it...if the land's happy the fellas are happy too”.

SEQFBC also launched the NEW Property Fire Management Planning Kit on the day. 

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