West Macs fire mitigation critically inadequate: Scientist

2607 West Macs fire sat 2 OK

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

“The fire mapping we have undertaken in 2018 indicates only one or two areas of prescribed burning during the cool months last year, insufficient to prevent the catastrophic bushfire which has swept through most of the West MacDonnell National Park last month.”

 

So says Andrew Edwards, one of a few CDU scientists maintaining the North Australia and Rangelands Fire Information (NAFI) website which chronicles fires in real time, using satellite images.

 

DotsThe image of this year’s blaze, shown in grey dots (sample at right), stretches from just west of Alice Springs, all the way out to beyond Mount Sonder, encompassing virtually all the locations recognised as the jewels in The Centre’s tourism crown.

 

Dr Edwards says the discussion in park management about the purpose of precautionary burning is age-old.

 

It is dominated quite rightly by people focussed on the protection of threatened species. This has become “ingrained” in conservation land management.

 

Precautionary burning – reducing fuel load during cool weather when burns can be controlled more easily – is not  done often enough in a strategic way, says Dr Edwards. It needs to somewhat compartmentalise the landscape, usually within catchments, with continuous strips of fuel reduced, thus creating barriers to wildfires, and again this needs to be done at the time of  minimal risk.

 

Dr Edwards says he had not noticed any such strip burning in the West Macs last year.

 

The ever increasing frequent dry and hot weather makes prevention of fires even more urgent, he says, as it is creating higher and longer fire danger weather periods.

 

Dr Edwards says the frequency of fires – this was a third major blaze within 20 years – is increasing the risk of extinctions.

 

Many local plants and shrubs are “obligate seeders”: They don’t re-sprout but only come back from seeds.

 

If fires occur too frequently for the seed bank to re-generate then the plant will simply be extinct.

 

The most recent interval between fire was just seven years – 2011 to 2018 – and Dr Edwards says that interval is critically short.

 

2607 West Macs fire cicadesAs to animals, birds can usually escape fire, but terrestrial species get caught and killed, taking many years to re-colonise areas where big fires have occurred.

 

It may take decades for country to recover, depending also on rainfall which in recent years has become fickle, he says.

 

IMAGES: Fire map form NAFI • Ormiston Gorge ablaze (photo courtesy NT Government) • Destroyed MacDonnell Ranges cycads (by PATRICK NELSON).

 

NOTE: There is still no answer from the NT Government to questions about protection of the park through precautionary burning.

 

 

 

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14 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Steve Brown
    Posted February 16, 2019 at 8:35 am

    @ Alex Hope: So Alex do you think Parks is achieving its purpose now! Is the buffel eradicated? Is the flora and fauna in a better state than when it was a pastoral lease?
    Is the park in a condition that we can show it to the world in order to attract the tourists who fund our economy? Have we protected near extinct species?
    To just what level of destruction to you propose we go in chasing what some see as a weed and what others know is actually a highly beneficial grass?
    At what stage do you stop this battle against grass and look behind you to see the horrific damage that has been done?
    By the time the mentality which you espouse is through, if left to run unchecked, there will only be vast fields of buffel grass left all our native animals, trees, shrubs and grasses will be gone, driven into the ground through the actions of irresponsible idiots.
    Sensible licensed grazing by shepherded animals is a practical tool that will not only protect the park to a much greater degree from fire but can also add to the park’s attractiveness for visitors, locals running mobile Dude ranch activities and the like.
    Parks are for people Alex, not for the sole use of left wing ideologues hell bent on proving some political point at any expense!
    As for Illparpa Rd … you are kidding aren’t you? To keep buffel out of that tiny area quite literally thousands of litres of highly toxic now thought to be carcinogenic sprays has and is being used on a continual basis!
    So just how much chemical and how much man power would we need for the park, do you think?

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  2. Alex Hope
    Posted February 14, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    @ Steve Brown: So just to clarify your argument Steve, are you advocating that fire control in Central Ausrtalian national parks should rely on grazing by cattle?
    Are national parks not designed to protect and preserve native fauna and flora?
    How can they fulfill that function if they are overtaken by a weed which supplants native grasses and wild flowers, and is in turn controlled by cattle?
    In which case, how will are parks be any different to our pastoral leases?
    Am I missing something here?
    You must surely have noticed the blocks on Ilparpa Road which have had the buffel eradicated, where native grasses and wild flowers flourish in season, and how different they are to those where buffel has taken over?

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  3. Steve Brown
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    @ Alex Hope: My very point. It only does harm when you burn it! Not quite sure what’s so hard to understand. It’s simple: You must not burn buffel except when absolutely necessary – back burning, for example.
    Patch burning does every-bit as much harm as a major fire and because its mandated in park management it does more harm because its repeated so often, accumulating damage upon existing damage until there is complete loss of anything but buffel.
    Further, because of the fire happy culture that’s grown up around this practice, we are seeing a more and more reckless use of the method where we see fire actually being extended, run on, instead of being put out!
    Even on days declared as catastrophic risk! In complete contravention of the Act!
    The damage being inflicted in the idiotic hell bent fervour to eradicate Buffel is both horrific and completely self defeating.
    Because burning suits the buffel and not our native plants.
    Despite popular fiction our native plants do not recover well from fire!
    With our variable rainfall it can take many years. When you destroy trees hundreds of years old, it takes hundreds of years to replace them!
    So after yet another fire disaster, it might just be about time to stop and think a little deeper don’t you think.
    The safest way, the least destructive way to deal with buffel is by grazing it, and you should keep in mind that it’s not only the large herd animals that eat it, much of our wildlife has also come to depend upon it.
    Further, buffel is a grass. Any attempt to eradicate it by the introduction of a beetle grub or the like would be putting all our grasses at risk, along with our food security and the economy of the nation.

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  4. Alex Hope
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    @ Steve Brown: Isn’t there a big contradiction here Steve?
    “Buffel is here. We need to learn to live with it. Buffel does little or no harm, improves our soils, lessens run off and raises overall food production enormously.
    “Because it contains more energy it also burns hotter than native grasses, destroying native trees and shrubs as a result.”
    There was a fire on the hill behind my place in town about 16 years ago in the winter. It was partially colonised by buffel. Where there was buffel, ironwoods, witchetty bush and other acacias, and cassia / Siennas were all killed.
    Where there was no buffel the shrubs and trees were scorched but for the most part foliage grew back. Buffel made the fire much more destructive.
    On the other hand patch burning buffel for firebreaks and destroying native vegevtation in the process is counterproductive.
    Oh, for the buffel grass equivalent of the cactoblastis beetle which controlled the prickly pear

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  5. Dr Ongo
    Posted February 10, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    National Parks are not your hobby farm Steve, they don’t want or need cows.

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  6. Ian Sharp
    Posted February 9, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Good to see Steve Brown on an old hobby horse. “Buffel does little or no harm” has been a long time mantra. Alex Nelson sums up his contribution beautifully.

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  7. Interested
    Posted February 9, 2019 at 9:38 am

    Steve: You don’t understand the destruction that buffel is doing. I thought you would be able to understand but you don’t you are set in your ways you don’t understand how the world works.
    So we will leave it like that.
    However let me go through fire:
    There is different ways to attack a fire
    1. Direct attack this was not always a option 45 degrees and 50 km gusts would love to see you doing that.
    2. Another is back burning take out a bit of land to save a lot.
    3. Let it burn.
    4. On foot using tools e.g. blowers.
    Fire was in the ranges where it was impossible to deal with. Every creek and gully the fire would come down. It was impossible in places.
    So without getting angry with you when you say do your job you don’t understand the situation you sit back and blame others.
    If you were a proper pastoralist you would understand these practices.
    Fuel management is a key and the eradication or control of buffel should be a goal to achieve.

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  8. Steve Brown
    Posted February 8, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    If I got out a dozer and flattened my house because I was worried about the wind knocking it over, would you understand that that is actually a pretty dam stupid thing to do?
    You would … so then understand that in burning grass before it can burn is every bit as stupid, especially when it results in exactly the outcome you claim to be protecting against!
    Burning grass of all kinds, not just buffel, in places where it is not a threat to physical assets and human life is a completely unnecessary and extremely destructive thing to do.
    The constant burning of country that is being undertaken suits buffel to a tee … you are actually assisting its dominance while destroying all other vegetation!
    Despite popular fiction, our trees and shrubs let alone native wildlife, struggle to recover from burning. Burn them two years in a row and they are gone. Guess what replaces them?
    I have lived at White Gums, once a dairy farm which now runs beef cattle right next door to Simpsons Gap for 65 years this year.
    I drive through it several times a day. I have watched it progress from cattle station to national park.
    I watched it through the early years when Bob Darken and others who actually new that land oversaw it
    I watched it gradually recover from overstocking and I watched it through the seventies and eighties as buffel colonised the once bare ground.
    I watched years later as the moron mentality took hold, the uni-trained experts indoctrinated with cultural garbage and the lefty politics of envy brought this vile culture of burning to life.
    Since that time, I’ve watched the complete destruction of what was once a World Heritage level park by burning.
    Everyone should understand, it’s not just buffel grass that is burnt! Everything is burnt!
    These guys aren’t just burning fire breaks, they burn the entire country!
    This reckless irresponsible and ongoing assault on our National Park has led to the destruction of shrubs, trees and wildlife including the vary rare colonies of possums … all gone to deliberate lit, poorly controlled fire.
    Once upon a time our ranges were covered with shrubs and trees. They are gone. Killed not by buffel grass but by burning it!
    At White Gums every year we get deliberately lit fires which we put out. They rarely do much damage because we graze the grass. This is the natural, sensible way to control buffel that leaves trees and shrubs intact.
    And it generates an income! Yes, money! That stuff many of us have to earn so that those dependent on the public purse get paid.
    Of course there are fires that occur constantly from lightening ect.
    Yes, they burn country however the now rampart culture of burning often sees these fires extended rather than being extinguished.
    The attitude is: “We might as well burn it while we are here.”
    You have to work alongside these guys to realise the ridiculous levels to which this anti buffel thing has taken us.
    We run cattle so on a number of occasions we’ve had to stop the burning out of whole grassy paddocks trying to make them understand that grass is food!
    That food translates to a big part of the Territory’s earned income and its not only domestic animals that depend upon it.
    Buffel is here. We need to learn to live with it. Buffel does little or no harm, improves our soils, lessens run off and raises overall food production enormously.
    Because it contains more energy it also burns hotter than native grasses, destroying native trees and shrubs as a result.
    Its ability for rapid regrowth allows it to dominate other species after a fire, so the more you burn, the fewer trees and shrubs survive and the more buffel you get!
    So guys, don’t burn it. Put the fires out like you’re supposed to.
    Graze the grass and leave our country presentable for both ourselves, our tourists and especially our native wildlife.

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  9. Psuedo Guru
    Posted February 8, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Townsville floods are a warning – be prepared! Floods and fire.

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  10. InterestedDarwinObserver
    Posted February 8, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Steve, I agree on many things you say – however on this occasion, not so much.
    Buffel is the botanic cane toad of our region. It is a weed, plain and simple.
    It is not the most palatable or nutritious of pastures.
    Yes, the sheer quantity and rapid growth rates may make it a valuable food source at times, however our landscape would certainly be better off with out it, even if it means we need to reduce the stocking rates.

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  11. Posted February 8, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Such a shame, Steve, that we’re unable to harness your sprays to put the wildfires out.

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  12. Interested
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Steve: You’re story does not make sense. You may have seen fire. Congratulations. However, you don’t know the purpose or the outcome of the fire you’re talking about.
    You don’t understand fire, the purpose, what it can be used for.
    You speak like you come from a long pastoral background which you do not, White Gums is not.
    Fire will travel through any conditions especially 40 km gusts.
    Buffel is a major concern. You can’t fix it with cattle in a park which wants to be world heritage.
    Cattle spread seed and cause erosion by using regular tracks.
    Don’t comment on something you don’t have a clue about.
    Yes, this isn’t my correct name.

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  13. Dr Ongo
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Steve: Anyone who has been here for a while can see the huge change in the landscape.
    Areas with little or no buffle are slowly being dominated by this weed at a detriment to the biodiversity an natural beauty of these places.
    It crowds out other species and grows much thicker than native grasses and leaves a huge fuel load that burns hotter.
    Sure we need to take precautions to stop these wildfires but in national parks and areas that are set aside to protect the natural environment buffle needs to be severely controlled if not eradicated.

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  14. Steve Brown
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    The problem is a management problem not a buffel grass problem!
    A toxic culture of burning!
    Various organisations charged with managing our land assets are infested with persons usually referred to as “Fire Bugs”.
    They operate on a bureaucratically perpetuated lie and a culture of paternalism. The lie is “fire-stick farming” which was never in traditional use in the central desert regions where fire was used in small patches only, mostly in spinifex country for hunting purposes only.
    If burning had been used on the scale used in our national parks there simply would have been no people left in this country, they would have starved!
    The paternalism or if you like barefaced racism … the presumption that a person born and raised in town or community away from any kind of traditional upbringing but identifying as an Aboriginal person, has inbuilt genetic knowledge others don’t have, that allows them or those working with them to burn country as they please!
    The practice remains unchallenged because of a fear of being branded racist for doing so!
    In fact the lack of action in curtailing this destructive vandalism and wanton destruction of this country by wilful idiotic burning, is not only stupid … its barefacedly racists!
    Case in point just a few weeks back along Larapinta Drive a person identified as a firebug lit a series of fires.
    These were small fires because they were found quickly, they could have been extinguished with relative ease. It was on a day declared by bushfires as a “catastrophic fire day”!
    Very hot with high winds.
    Those charged with controlling the fires were deliberately running the fires on. This means lighting up country in front of the fire – yeh, burning it before it can burn, presumably at some more inconvenient moment!
    Pretty damn hard to imagine a more inconvenient moment than a catastrophic fire day!
    These fires were encouraged to run the length of Larapinta – all the way to town and even deliberately started on the opposite side of the road where at that stage there had been no fire.
    Worse, the fire was run over an area that had been traditionally burnt just a few months prior resulting in fatal damage to trees still struggling to recover from previous vandalism.
    So, what has this to do with the complete burnout of the Western Macs you ask?
    Well, the fire of which I speak wandered off in that direction given the attitudes shown alongside the road I can hardly imagine it was ever put out.
    That being said, a lightning strike has been claimed as the source of the vast fire through the ranges.
    My question is was the same destructive fire bug mentality in evidence in the efforts to put this fire out?
    Excuse me for being cynical but after observations of the fire fighting efforts on Larapinta one can only wonder if we haven’t lost a huge part of our wonderful natural environment not to buffel grass as apologists claim, but to a toxic culture of burning!
    Remember, fire is always destructive! Buffel grass is simply food! If you don’t burn it, it is a highly productive food asset!
    And further to that if we do get a sprinkle of rain it will be the quick response growth of buffel that saves the last vestiges of wildlife in the ranges from starvation.
    Because when burning isn’t immediately followed by rain, starvation follows swiftly.
    Stop burning our country!
    Graze our country, save our plants and wildlife, preserve our tourism assets.

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