Firestarter

Published 27 Apr 2016 
about  Nardoo Hills Reserves  
Our Victorian Reserves Manager Jeroen van Veen on the job.<br/> Photo Nathan Wong. Our Victorian Reserves Manager Jeroen van Veen on the job.
Photo Nathan Wong.
Barapa Barapa elder Ron Murray plays the Didge during smoking ceremony.<br/> Photo by Jeroen van Veen. Barapa Barapa elder Ron Murray plays the Didge during smoking ceremony.
Photo by Jeroen van Veen.
A perfect 60% burnt.<br/> Photo by Quambatook CFA. A perfect 60% burnt.
Photo by Quambatook CFA.
Plains Wanderer Recovery Team Chair, David Baker-Gabb, explains why this bird needs a mighty conservation effort,<br/> Photo by Nathan Wong. Plains Wanderer Recovery Team Chair, David Baker-Gabb, explains why this bird needs a mighty conservation effort,
Photo by Nathan Wong.

Our aim of having Aboriginal involvement in the use of fire as a management tool on our Victorian properties has come a significant step closer this week when representatives of the Barapa Barapa, Dja Dja Wurrung and the Wautherong people from all over the Central North of the State were involved with a CFA (Country Fire Authority) led burn at the Trust for Nature Reserves at Quambatook.

Reserve manager Nathan Wong and Bush Heritage Australia's​ Victorian Reserve Manager Jeroen van Veen have been working on this step-by-step plan for two years, so it’s great to see it slowly coming together.

Although only the Dja Dja Wurrung actively participated in the burn (they have qualified fire fighters and a 'slip-on' fire-fighting unit so they were deemed safe on the fire ground by CFA), the other groups were involved in the organisation of the event as well as performing a burning ceremony, complete with a fire story beforehand.

The Trust for Nature Reserves at Quambatook consist of several native grassland blocks that need a biomass management schedule to make sure some of the grasses don't drown out the many herbs and wildflowers over time. Nathan wants to regularly burn on these reserves to make the ground structure more open and also more suitable for the nationally endangered Plains Wanderer. As these reserves haven't seen enough fire over the preceeding years, these initial burns are quite technical because of a high fuel load and an associated risk of burning too hot.

The politics associated with prescribed burns in Victoria are very complicated. The CFA offers ample help to plan these burns appropriately and provides equipment, but at the same time it's very focussed on safety and avoiding risk. This means that many layers of authority need to sign off on fires like the one we conducted last week and this makes it always uncertain if fires will go ahead as planned. The  conditions of wind or humidity might be outside the acceptable “prescription” range on the day, which means authority to light up is not forthcoming. But, all went well and a total of 250 hectares were burnt in preparation for the long awaited winter rains to come.

A proper ecological grassland burn has a mosaic style to it, with some patches left unburnt and an overall burnt rate of no higher than 60% to 70%. Although earlier on the day it was burning closer to 90%, because of the higher than normal biomass, increased moisture levels towards the evening saw a beautiful 60% burn rate set in for the larger block. Nathan seeded out some of the burnt areas with rare plant seed the next day to speed up the recovery.

Bush Heritage Australia Victorian Reserve Manager Jeroen van Veen helped out with the planning, logistics and did a spell on one of the CFA tankers as staffing levels dropped down for part of the burn. Bush Heritage will now take the momentum, the contacts and the lessons learnt to our Nardoo Hills Reserves to conduct some protective burns before the next summer can threaten us there with uncontrolled wildfire again. Dja Dja Wurrung will be closely involved with this next step and already we're talking together about how we can perform these burns to a higher standard so we get the maximum biodiversity benefits.

Barapa Barapa elder Ron Murray plays the Didge during smoking ceremony.<br/> Photo by Jeroen van Veen. Barapa Barapa elder Ron Murray plays the Didge during smoking ceremony.
Photo by Jeroen van Veen.
A perfect 60% burnt.<br/> Photo by Quambatook CFA. A perfect 60% burnt.
Photo by Quambatook CFA.
Plains Wanderer Recovery Team Chair, David Baker-Gabb, explains why this bird needs a mighty conservation effort,<br/> Photo by Nathan Wong. Plains Wanderer Recovery Team Chair, David Baker-Gabb, explains why this bird needs a mighty conservation effort,
Photo by Nathan Wong.