Land Management – Fire

Using fire as a land management tool is one of the most controversial topics around. By that I’m not suggesting whether or not  fire should be used, but rather how it is used.

Different people use fire to achieve different outcomes. For instance, graziers often use fire to reduce tree regrowth, and promote the growth of grass for their cattle. Fire protection services use fuel reduction burns to protect property by lessening the intensity of future fires. The principle aim of none of these methods is for the purpose of managing ecosystems for biological diversity, although this would no doubt be debated by some.

Fire management that is designed to maintain ecosystems probably only makes up a small percentage of all the fires that are lit in Australia. Most fires are lit for one of the two previously mentioned reasons with other fires commonly started due to arson, faulty powerlines and lightening strikes.

Grass trees, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, after a moderate burn.
Grass trees, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, after a moderate mosaic burn.

At Sheoak Ridge we aim to preserve as much biodiversity as possible, thus fire is only used to maintain or stabilize the integrity of ecosystems. As simple as this principle sounds it is actually deceptively complex and every ecosystem has to be managed separately.  For this reason, the Queensland Government Fire Management  Guideline for each ecosystem on the property will be included on the corresponding ecosystem page.

Anyone who is interested in finding out what fire guidelines should be used in a specific ecosystem in Queensland can do so by downloading the Fire Management Guidelines from the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection website.

I’m usually pretty skeptical about anything that may be influenced by a political agenda, but so far I’m in agreement with these guidelines. However I do reserve the right to change my mind.

If you are looking for more detailed information on fire management for biodiversity there are some very meaty PDF files available on the Queensland Government – Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing website.

From complex to chaos.

If ecosystems were unchanging then simply following a prescribed fire regime is a relatively simple solution. However, natural processes are dynamic, and even without human interference, ecosystems change. In fact the whole aim of the fire guidelines is to prevent change and to create a stasis.  So I found myself asking the question- Should we manage Sheoak Ridge to maintain a stasis or should we allow ecosystems to become transitional. After much contemplation it was decided to do both.

Controlled burn mosaic in the cool of the night.
Controlled mosaic burn in the cool of the night.

Ecosystems on the property are managed in such a way that none are lost. However the transition of one ecosystem to another is allowed to take place in locations where a common regional ecosystem type is undergoing transitioning to become an endangered ecosystem type.

The best example of this is in the northern section of Sheoak Ridge. Here rainforest species are being allowed to colonize part of the Bloodwood Woodland.  This mixing of species has created a complex ecotone, which it can be be argued, is a distinct ecosystem itself.   At the same time the Paperbark Wetland and the Blue Gum Woodland in the same part of the property are only present as small ecosystem fragments. So rather than allow them to transition to Rainforest, they are managed to ensure their preservation.  In fact without fire, the entire property would eventually become rainforest. This wouldn’t be a bad thing considering that rainforests contain the highest biomass and species diversity, however we do like our ecological diversity and would prefer not to reduce it.

Personally I would recommend that any who is interested in learning more about the role of fire in Australia should read the book by D.M.J.S. Bowman – Australian Rainforests Islands of green in a land of fire.(Cambridge University Press)

It helped me to see things a lot more clearly

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A private nature reserve in North Queensland

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