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Cultural Burns Return to K’gari

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For thousands of years, Butchulla people used fire (girra) to manage their landscape, to hunt and gather food and for farming: to make sure certain plants and animals flourished in certain places so that resources were available, convenient, and predictable.

Today, it is used as a management tool to: clean up Country (preventing hot, destructive wildfires by reducing the fuel load), protect significant areas from hot wildfires (burning around assets, cultural sites, areas that can’t cope with fire), reduce weeds and support ecosystem maintenance – preferencing some species over others (e.g. if you want to maintain grasslands instead of a forest), promote renewal (some plants need the fire to germinate their seeds) and encourage regrowth providing feed for native animals. 

Reading country is very important in planning burns. You need to know what is flowering and what animals are about, so you make sure you aren’t removing a food source or burning plants at the wrong time in their life cycle.

So, what is a Cultural Burn?

If used appropriately, a traditional or cultural burn can help keep Country healthy by removing excess plant matter on the ground, reducing fuel load and the potential for dangerous bushfires.

Cultural burns target small patches of land with a mosaic burning pattern to leave resources for animals. The burn targets the understory vegetation and surface leaf litter, so the fire should stay low to the ground, leaving the trees alive.

It moves slowly, creeping along so that insects and animals have sufficient time to move out of the way. It burns with white smoke making black ash that cools very soon after burning and usually extinguishes itself. But significantly, unlike a wildfire, Country recovers quickly with trees unharmed, plants growing back easily, and animals quickly returning. 

K’gari Camp Burn

It’s been eight years since QPWS burned the area. K’gari camp, opposite the proposed block, was nearly destroyed during the wildfire with the Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers (BLSR) stationed nearby to fight the fire and put protective strategies in place. This is why the team chose to burn this area.

Spotlighting was conducted around the edge of the burn area every 20 meters. There were several different habitat types within the area, including brush box, melaleuca, and weeds such as lantana. Although most of the fire was a ‘cool burn’, it became quite hot in the melaleuca area but quickly burnt and then died out. Witnesses reported seeing wildlife escaping the area, such as snakes, centipedes and bandicoots.

Overall, it was a successful, safe and contained cultural burn on Butchulla country. Led by BLSR Ranger Blayde Foley as part of his “Stepping up” project, supported by the Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger (QILSR) Program, the burn was conducted collaboratively with our partners Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Rural Fire Service and the Department of Resources.

The BLSR believe this was an excellent opportunity for our rangers to lead a cultural burn on Country and to educate and empower others around cultural burn methods.

We look forward to more in the future.

Article submitted by Chantel Van Wamelen, Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation

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