Buffel burn at Bon Bon

on 11 Apr 2014 
The Bon Bon buffel burn team: From left, Geoff Squires, David Powell, Peter White, Wayne Borrett, Jeremiah Marjanovic, Mike Chuk, Julia Harris

Two days of burning has seen four major buffel grass sites treated on Bon Bon.  It was a team effort lead by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) and involving the Country Fire Service (CFS) and BHA (the Bon Bon Station Reserve managers are two of the newest recruits to the CFS, so it was also a good learning experience). The burn has been followed by some good falls of rain; the areas should respond quickly and provide good conditions for herbicide treatment in next few weeks.

Buffel grass Cenchrus ciliaris is an introduced species of perennial grass that's well adapted to arid conditions.  In some states (eg Queensland) it is sown as a pasture for cattle production, but in other arid regions (eg in South Australia (SA)) it has weed status.  In the pastoral districts of SA it has the potential to out compete native plant species and change the fire regime to produce hotter, more severe wildfires, as well as altering habitats and impacting on biodiversity. It's the major weed threat on Bon Bon Station Reserve.

The weather was quite challenging for the buffel burn team; on the morning of the first day it was warm and sunny with a slight wind and we had good success with the grass carrying the fire, but by mid-afternoon it was too hot and windy to continue.

The second day dawned cloudy, damp and cool which meant it was more difficult for the grass to burn, but we did manage to burn two more large sites before more showers set in.  The Bon Bon buffel burning team is on-hold now until weather conditions are more favourable (possibly Spring).

David Powell is an environment officer with the DPTI and has had good success with burning buffel on smaller sections of road verges in the region (we are also aware that fire has been used successfully as a tool for control in the Northern Territory).

David was concerned about the size of the infestation on the Bon Bon section of the highway and was keen to burn some areas to create a more effective environment for control with herbicides. 

Attacking buffel grass along the Stuart Highway requires a multi-faceted approach because of the size of the infestation (there's 65 km of highway stretching through the reserve) and because traffic creates access and safety issues.

Burning buffel has several advantages. It reduces rank growth (older established tussocks have a large amount of dry matter) and it also encourages new growth which is easier and cheaper to spray (requiring less herbicide per plant and better penetration into the tussock).

The other good thing is that the above ground seed mass is removed and the site is cleaner, with reduced weed seed spread issues. It is also easier to find seedlings.

All that said it is quite labour intensive to burn along the highway.  There were eight people involved; plus two fire units, a water tanker and a traffic control vehicle.

Our buffel grass strategy is to eradicate within the reserve north of the highway and reduce threat and contain spread along the highway and in the south part of the reserve. It's a big job but is clearly the number one priority in protecting the reserve's biodiversity.

We are fortunate that our investment in control has encouraged several other agencies to get on board. Right now we are buffel central in SA!

The Bon Bon buffel burn team: From left, Geoff Squires, David Powell, Peter White, Wayne Borrett, Jeremiah Marjanovic, Mike Chuk, Julia Harris