Aussie Controlled Forest Burns are now “Cultural Burns”?

Essay by Eric Worrall

Greens frequently oppose controlled burns to manage flammable forest fuel buildups. But would greens oppose the traditional wisdom of an indigenous “cultural burn”?

Esperance rangers hope cultural burns could buffer remote islands from climate change impacts

ABC Esperance / By Emily JB Smith

Figure of Eight Island was once home to Australia’s western-most breeding population of short-tailed shearwaters.

But the colony disappeared after a lightning strike sparked a fire that quietly ravaged the island in 2019.

Ms Graham, a ranger at the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, was part of the team who visited in 2020 to find the birds gone and habitat destroyed.

Three years after the blaze, they found little evidence of birds returning.

“Seabird colonies are actually pretty slow to recover,” Dr Lavers said.

But cultural burns could reduce their impacts.

“There’s an opportunity there … to do go in and burn around important assets like seabird colonies during the off season when seabirds aren’t there and when it’s cooler and wetter,” she said.

Read more:

The abstract of a paper published by the scientists;

Impact of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in southwest Australia: a case study for developing a community-based model in adaptive management

June 2022
Human Ecology 50(4)

Jennifer Lavers, Genevieve R. Carey, David R. Guilfoyle, Ron Reynolds

Traditional burning regimes have long been employed to enhance biodiversity and mitigate high-intensity wildfires. The link between changes in the distribution, success, and timing of breeding in seabirds and climatic and oceanographic variation in the marine environment has been established, with migratory seabirds less able to respond to climate variability than resident species. While climate-driven changes can also occur on seabird breeding islands, few data are available regarding potential impacts. Here we investigate the frequency and severity of bushfires on seabird breeding islands in Western Australia, regarding the 2020 fire on Figure of Eight Island in the Recherche Archipelago. A lack of quantitative, historical surveys limited our ability to quantify the number of shearwaters lost in this event. However, a review of available data suggests thousands of birds die due to burning every one or two years across the Archipelago. On Figure of Eight, shearwater burrow occupancy and density were low 12 months post-burn (0.25 and 0.02 ± 0.03, respectively), with minimal evidence of recovery (very few burrows detected) 23 months post-burn. We discuss opportunities to develop an adaptive, community-based program for reinstating collaborative, cultural methods of fire management and monitoring regimes on seabird breeding islands in Australia.

Read more:

Having traditional custodians of the land to ignite the controlled fuel burns in accordance to their ancient wisdom might help defuse green opposition to controlled burns, opposition which has likely contributed to the severity of recent devastating fires in Australia, the USA and Canada.

Reading the full article, it looks like government agencies who oversee land management are resisting the push to re-classify controlled fuel burns as “cultural burns”.

I hope those agencies come to their senses. So long as the controlled fuel reduction burns happen, who cares who strikes the match?

Embracing “cultural burns”, reducing the intensity of wildfires when they inevitably happen, might save human lives, in addition to preventing more endangered bird rookeries and animals from suffering the same fate as the short tailed shearwaters on Figure of Eight Island.

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December 24, 2022 2:30 pm

Marxist 101. Control the narrative by demonizing your opposition, glorifying your position, and use your control of the media to spread your narrative. Denier seems to be the demon phrase of the day.

Dean S
December 24, 2022 2:30 pm

It might not be the solution, but it will certainly put them in a quandry.

Which woke ideal will triumph? Their belief that man is the root of evil, or the wisdom of the noble savage?

Reply to  Dean S
December 24, 2022 4:28 pm

“the noball savage”
How do they procreate ???

Reply to  Dean S
December 25, 2022 9:48 am

Trump knows you gotta controlled burn the culture to keep wildfires down. Man actually knows more about it than most US politicians.

Tom Halla
December 24, 2022 2:35 pm

The “just let it alone!” attitude of many greens is more prejudice than evidence. The Aborigines have been in Australia some 50,000 years, while American Indians have been around since at least the end of the last Ice Age. Native groups actively managed brush, mostly with controlled fire, and have been doing so for a very long time.
I consider the greens to hold natives in an odd status, purportedly respecting them, but believing they lack agency.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 24, 2022 4:31 pm

There is a big gulf between the assertion that aborigines have been here for 50,000 years; and we have detailed accounts of their fire managements. Those native burnoffs that I have helped with have been what anyone would do given a need for meat tucker and a box of matches. None of the senior guys at the time expressed any knowledge from history or tradition. I used to ask about it and got silly looks and comebacks like “How would you do it? Any different?” Some of the small fire methods are to protect feet that do not have shoes.9
Same with pastoralists running big mobs of cattle in North Queensland. While exploring on their properties, they would often tell us where they wanted large areas of fires to burn off late summer dry dying grass to let new green grass grow after the seasonal rains. Some of our fieldies would enjoy the art of lighting a box of matches with one hand and throwing it from a 4WD Toyota for hours at a time while going A to B without dropping a box in the lap and crashing.
But then, that was in the happy era before obsessions by green control freaks.
Just do not believe much of what you read about aboriginal traditional management of lands by fire. Much of the literature was written by academic anthropologists, with more or less success at keeping their own thoughts out of the story. Geoff S

old cocky
Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 5:56 pm

Different groups of Aborigines would have burnt off in different places at different times for different reasons. Botany Bay is different to the Pilliga is different to Menindee is different to Bowen, so people would have worked out what needed to be done, and made sure that knowledge was passed down.

Having to survive in a harsh environment with limited resources makes one a very keen observer of nature, and very few of the Aborigines I knew growing up were dills.

Those native burnoffs that I have helped with have been what anyone would do given a need for meat tucker and a box of matches. None of the senior guys at the time expressed any knowledge from history or tradition. I used to ask about it and got silly looks and comebacks like “How would you do it? Any different?”

I suspect you’re giving “anybody” far too much credit. You would have been a far better bushman after some time as a field geologist than when you were still at Uni or high school.
When you come down to it, how many people know what a fire break is for?

For the senior guys, fires would be something that “everybody knows” – it was something they had done since childhood, like tracking.

When it’s all said and done, Baden Powell formed the Boy Scouts because British troops were so clueless in southern Africa.

spangled drongo
Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 8:36 pm

Very true Geoff. What people mostly don’t know about the motivation for Aboriginal burn-offs is they simply could not live in the insect infested rain forests that occupied the most productive part of Australia when they first arrived.
Boomerangs and spears don’t work in jungles either.
They spent all of those “50,000” years trying to produce very hot fires to replace dense rain forest with open, dry eucalypt forest.
And they succeeded for possibly 50% of the area.
When you have no clothes and you have to lie down in the dirt among ticks and leeches, you have to paint your whole body with clay and ash and still it is miserable.

December 24, 2022 3:20 pm

Lightning surely must have started fires on such islands for millions of years, plausibly affection bird habitats. Yet there are birds today who have survived, with no interference by Man.
Past efforts by Man to “help Nature” have often failed because of unintended consequences, aka human ignorance. Even the cursed blackberry introduction to Australia is attributed to famous botanist Baron Sir Ferdinand von Miller. Cane toads to scientist bodies like CSIRO. And so on.
If people feel that they face harm from future fires, they can move elsewhere. Birds can move elsewhere. Why blow up an emotional storm when it matters little? Life goes on without the need to invent terrors.
Geoff S

Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 3:25 pm

I hate spell correctors. How do you turn them off?
They changed correct von Mueller to von Miller.
They changed affecting to affection.
They often change its to the minor, different it’s.
Geoff S

Dave Fair
Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 3:50 pm

Reread everything before you post, Geoff. Lazy is as lazy does.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Dave Fair
December 24, 2022 4:05 pm

I didn’t want to be rude because it’s Christmas.

Reply to  Dave Fair
December 24, 2022 4:38 pm

I do. The changes seem to happen after I hit the post comment button. But I have never confirmed this. Biggest problem is with a Lenovo tablet. Maybe old eyes and small print are the main problem. It seems inconsistent with the major advances in small computing devices that I have seen since my first one, a PDP8 in 1970. Surely anticipatory software can be made better. Geoff S

Dave Fair
Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 5:10 pm

Geoff, software or not, one is ultimately responsible for one’s postings. Buy a bigger screen or larger tablet and upsize your fonts. I don’t post from smartphones nor tablets for that and many other reasons.

Typing is a full-time job as I learned as the only boy alongside girls in the 7th grade typing class. I was one of the few males ready for the PC revolution in the 1980s.

I’ve bought bigger screens as my eyes deteriorated. Cataract surgery is next.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Dave Fair
December 24, 2022 5:38 pm

G’Day Dave,

Reread everything before you post…”

I’ve found that reading a comment out loud really helps.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  sherro01
December 24, 2022 3:50 pm

I use my PC, so it isn’t a problem. Portable devices do things a little differently. An internet search might reveal how to disable the function.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
December 24, 2022 3:53 pm

I love spell correction software; it saves alot of grief, especially related to my poor spelling of my huge range of vocabulary. Pobodys nerfic.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Dave Fair
December 24, 2022 4:08 pm

I have spell correction installed. Proofread then post. Read what I posted and correct it with the edit function if necessary.
BTW spell check and auto-correct are different.

Last edited 3 months ago by Alexy Scherbakoff
Dave Fair
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
December 24, 2022 5:12 pm

Agreed, never allow anything or anybody to autocorrect you. Its difficult, however, in practice for married men such as myself.

Merry Christmas, all!

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Dave Fair
December 24, 2022 5:17 pm

I have selective deafness.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
December 24, 2022 5:24 pm

As so have I been accused many times. Cheaper than a divorce.

Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
December 26, 2022 10:45 am

Lucky for me I have actual hearing loss in my RIGHT ear due to years of working construction. That ear, in the US, is the side the better half sits on while I am driving. Never hear much while on the road.

Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
December 26, 2022 10:43 am

I used autocorrect to great effect when working as a Plans Examiner. A short abbreviation, usually 2 letters, can be programmed into a complete sentence.

Ex. cs changed to “Provide complete transverse and longitudinal cross sections to scale showing methods and materials of construction.”

You would be surprised how many construction projects could never be actually built due to the incomplete nature of submitted plans, including those prepared by “licensed architects”.

After a while I just took all my autocorrects and prepared prewritten letters including ALL the corrections comments for typical deficiencies in plan submittals. I would just deleted those which were actually provided and complete. Just doing that increased my output by close to 100%.

Since it was government, no one in management (all “promoted from the worker bee level) had ever done that one simple thing, i.e. produce standard correction letters for each area of building department review, Architectural, Structural, Plumbing, Electrical, Mechanical and Site/Civil. I did that, then, being a government employee, started taking it “easy”, while still “out producing” my co”workers” by over 50%. When I left that job, several associates asked for my letters, but only when I left, due to the need to pick up their pace after I was gone.

Sad commentary on government work mentality and, I am sorry to say, MY mentality at the time.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 24, 2022 7:20 pm

Even in the Amazon, native tribes clear deadfall, maintain foot paths, and otherwise keep the areas they inhabit tidier than they would be otherwise.

A happy little debunker
December 24, 2022 4:27 pm

These are not ‘cultural burns’ – they are burn offs arranged via select indigenous exclusively trained by State fire agencies for lotsa dollarydoos.
In the world of fire – it has as much meaning as the ‘welcome to country’ ceremony first established in the 70’s by noted entertainer Ernie Dingo.

This is just another niche graft for select Indigenous.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 25, 2022 10:53 am

” … to try to get some rational behaviour out of government land management agencies … ”
I don’t agree. This is not RATIONAL behaviour. This is renoucing and ignoring forest science and bringing about and empowering pre-scientific practices.
The result MAY be the same but the methodologies are incompatible.

Last edited 2 months ago by Joao Martins
paul courtney
Reply to  A happy little debunker
December 25, 2022 8:55 am

Mr. debunker: You are failing to see the opportunity here. Why not find evidence the noble indigenous burned coal?! Then we could make cultural electricity!

December 24, 2022 4:28 pm

The Australian eucalyptus trees, the predominant tree across Australia, are a huge fire risk, not only because of their high oil content. They drop leaves and branches at the rate of 8 tonnes per hectare annually, but only 30% decomposes annually. Hence it doesn’t take long for the litter to build up to levels where, once a bushfire starts, it’s virtually impossible to extinguish. To manage this huge amount of forest litter, it’s necessary to conduct annual “cool burns” of more than 10% of the forests annually. But many states only cool-burn less than 3%. So it’s inevitable that Australia will continue to experience devastating large bushfires that take lives, destroy properties and decimate the native wildlife. We never learn.

Reply to  Graeme4
December 25, 2022 12:40 am

Everything you say is 100% true. The more fires we put out the larger the inevitable firestorm will be. Unfortunately we are now in the situation where we need to put out the fires lest people and properties are destroyed. We have painted ourselves into a corner and there is now no way out. Cool burning will help but how much land is going to get cool burned? Just around the edges I suspect.
One thing that really irritates me is the claim that the indigenous people ”managed” the bush with the wisdom that they would prevent big destructive fires rather than the real reason – to make it easier to hunt and get around. Even more irritating is the convenient claim that it is climate change which is to blame.

Reply to  Graeme4
December 25, 2022 11:18 pm

Indigenous Asutralians patch burned the country across the continent to the extent that early English visitors/explorers commonly commented that the landscape looked like an ‘English gentleman’s park’ according to Bill Gammage in his book The Greatest Estate on Earth.

Casual observation by this writer of natural bushland where undergrowth has been left to grow unchecked and of areas where hot fires have gone through and are literally sprouting new shoots in the upper and understorey flora clearly indicate the advantage of burning the Australian bush generally. Fire does in Australia what ice and snow do in the Northern Hemisphere generally. Ice and snow are not something at the conveneient hand of man but fire can be and if used continuously it mitigates against the more catastrophic effects of random lightening strikes occurring in periods of hot dry weather after years of drought etc.

I imagine a people with 50,000 or more years of living in such a landscape picked up on the things I did pretty quickly and polished their buring practices to the nth degree. Whether it was primarily to create hunting opportunities and/or new shoots to harvest and delivereed a safer environmeny or whether the rational was the reverse is perhaps imaterial. For the indigenous peoples patch burning would mean about as mch effort as mowing the lawnn sweeping and vaccuuming the house, washing the dishes etc for us ‘advanced’ peoples.

After 50,000 years you would figure it all out I imagine. Actually you might figure it all out after 5 or 50 at the most.

The current situation is a compound of the sheer arrogance of a ‘developed’ society, 20 times or more as many people inhabiting the place each with tens of thousands of times more stuff at risk and thousands of times more communications capacity to spread the deadly/catstrophic/unprecedented/word (and pictures, live to air) of every fire that can fill up the frame of a zoom lens.

December 24, 2022 6:38 pm

Step one: Create carbon emissions reduction scheme that disincentivizes forest management.

Step two: Blame wildfires on climate change.

Step three: Increase carbon emissions reduction incentives. Repeat step two.

“ The mosaic produced by aerial and ground burning by rangers and traditional owners in the Tanami in the 2009-10 season

That changed over much of the country – however – with the Kyoto protocol. Maintenance of open woodland was discouraged. Prescribed burning was included in emissions – wildfires were not. It resulted in a modern landscape transformation that I have seen with my own eyes. To landscapes of woody weeds susceptible to intense, hot season fires across vast areas of the nation.” —Australian Hydrologist Robert I Ellison

December 24, 2022 11:53 pm

Surely the primary reason for so-called cultural burning was the make the bush easier to walk through.

Reply to  malrob
December 25, 2022 12:43 am

I think there is no doubt about that among those that are the least bit rational.

December 25, 2022 12:10 am

Simple solution. As most of these greenies live in the bush, the fire department should declare their dwellings un defendable for a wild fire scenario, which in turn would make them uninsurable. Then watch them burn in a real time wild fire when they are ignored by the firey’s. That would be poetic justice.

December 25, 2022 12:20 am

I would take a Controlled Forest Burn disguised as a “Cultural Burns”, any day in preference to a full-on bushfire.

December 25, 2022 5:50 am

Hungry humans learned long ago to light fires and walk through the burned areas collecting cooked food, having first seen the effects of lightning and wildfires.

One should not assume this was done to prevent future fires. That was likely a lucky coincidence.

December 25, 2022 9:47 am

Would that be a plait on words? Burning the decaying matter on the forest floor is quite literally changing the “culture” of the forest floor… for those of you who missed the humor.

December 26, 2022 11:13 am

Read the second one, and not the comment about Reagan clearing brush and a “reporter” asking: “Is a new load being hauled up there every day for him to clear?” an exasperated reporter once asked Fitzwater”

Typical liberal reporter. They as so used to Democrats doing EVERYTHING for show, they project that onto hated Republicans.

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