WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PAST AND PRESENT?
The shortest answer: climate change! Climate conditions across the globe are becoming more extreme, and Australia is no different. The 2019-2020 Black Summer fires were unprecedented and recent climate warming in Australia is compounding already fragile conditions created by the continuation of the positive feedback loop started by the Europeans in the 18th century. This means that there are some areas that can no longer rely on preventative measures without first utilizing a long, careful, and deliberate recovery period.
IMAGE SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS UNIVERSITY
IMAGE SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
HOW DO WE PROTECT REMAINING RESOURCES AND LANDSCAPES?
One of the most precious remaining ecosystems in Australia is its old-growth forests. The primary threat to these forests is the logging industry. Logging accumulates fuel loads which increase the likelihood of high-intensity fires and results in even-growth forests which are less resilient to bushfires. A potential alternative to using native old-growth forests for logging is to focus production on tree plantations. In the case of wildfires in existing forests, post-savage logging – the practice of clearing living and dead trees after a wildfire – makes recovery more challenging and should be avoided.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO MANAGE ALREADY LIT FIRES?
The dry heat and triggers from lightning or anthropogenic sources mean that fires in Australia are inevitable. Once a fire is lit, the initial actions taken to contain and control the fire are extremely important in managing the extent of damage caused. The faster the response from firefighters and the smaller the size of the fire and the time of their intervention are the driving factors that determine the time to containment. These resources should be allocated based on regional weather patterns and accumulating fuel loads. The best way to decrease the expenditure and thinning of resources in firefighting efforts is to deeply invest in traditional land management and fire prevention.
IMAGE SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
IMAGE SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA
WHY DID ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES USE FIRE-STICK FARMING?
The break of positive feedback loops and implementation of Aboriginal fire management requires a dramatic shift in the culture and philosophy of land management. Caring for the land must come from the combined philosophies of hypothesis testing and knowledge acquisition through tradition and personal experience to serve the holistic needs of the land and the people caring for it. Programs that foster spiritual and ecological relationships with the land and indigenous communities have been started, but require long-term financial and social support to see outcomes.
One of the challenges faced by these sorts of programs is the place-identity divide and the intersection between top-down and bottom-up regulations. Top-down approaches can often be too prescriptive and ignore the complex landscape history of specific communities. Bottom-up methods can over-emphasize ownership and heighten social rifts between well-intentioned programs that determine needed resource allocation. Australian communities, both Aboriginal and not, need to establish clear boundaries between the large-scale and technologically advanced fire management systems preferred by governments and the local and context-dependent community notions of shared responsibility and social memory.
HOW IS THIS BEING NAVIGATED NOW?
Some areas of the country are attempting to incorporate Aboriginal practices into their land management. This video explains the benefits and challenges faced by advocates for cultural burning.