Box HER26 Using traditional fire knowledge

Landcare groups in north-eastern Victoria are partnering with traditional owners to revive the use of traditional fire knowledge as a land management tool. The aim is to reduce fuel loads and conduct field trials to rejuvenate native grasses and regenerate healthy ecosystems. The program illustrates both proactive responses to threats such as climate change and invasive species, and the rejuvenation of applied traditional Indigenous knowledge.

The initiative came about when traditional owners from Cape York in far north Queensland offered to share their knowledge with their countrymen in the south. They visited the North East Natural Resource Management (NRM) region in Victoria, talking at Landcare events, participating in an Indigenous fire forum in 2013 and talking to the local Aboriginal community.

In 2013, the Kiewa Catchment Landcare Groups (in north-eastern Victoria) secured Australian Government NRM funding to undertake fire trials with traditional owners in the region. The group selected 3 trial sites (2 in Talgarno and 1 in Baranduda), and a project ecologist designed the trial. The aims of the trial were to measure the impact of fire on weed and exotic species, provide local guidelines on how traditional fire knowledge can be incorporated into land management practices, and provide opportunities for Indigenous people to undertake cultural practices on Country.

Two of the trial sites are located on grazing properties (cattle and sheep), so tests were carried out on both grazed and ungrazed areas. Overall, the 4 tests were burned/grazed, burned/ungrazed, not burned/grazed and not burned/ungrazed. The ungrazed plots were fenced to prevent grazing.

Vegetation assessments undertaken in November 2014 showed that the burned plots had an increased number of native grass species and a reduction in the abundance of exotic cover compared with the unburned plots. The Landcare groups are aiming to undertake and monitor further burns with traditional owners at the 3 sites.

One of the highlights of the project has been the partnership between traditional owners, landholders, Landcare groups, Country Fire Authority volunteers and the North East Catchment Management Authority. Each component partner has been vital to the success of the project.

Source: North East Catchment Management Authority and National Landcare Programme

Native grass regrowth after fire (left) compared with unburned dry grass (right) in north-eastern Victoria

Native grass regrowth after fire (left) compared with unburned dry grass (right) in north-eastern Victoria

Photo by North East Catchment Authority

Native grass regrowth after fire (left) compared with unburned dry grass (right) in north-eastern Victoria

Peta-Marie Standly with (left to right) Cape York traditional owners Dorothy Pootchemunka and Dawn Koondumbin, and Joel Ngallametta (foreground), inspect native grass species at Bonegilla as part of a traditional fire knowledge exchange program

Peta-Marie Standly with (left to right) Cape York traditional owners Dorothy Pootchemunka and Dawn Koondumbin, and Joel Ngallametta (foreground), inspect native grass species at Bonegilla as part of a traditional fire knowledge exchange program

Photo by North East Catchment Authority

Peta-Marie Standly (left) with Cape York traditional owners Dorothy Pootchemunka, Dawn Koondumbin and, in the foreground, Joel Ngallametta inspect native grass species at Bonegilla as part of a traditional fire knowledge exchange program

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Box HER26 Using traditional fire knowledge. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/case-study/heritage/box-her26-using-traditional-fire-knowledge, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0