By Lyndal Scobell

A Cape York fire management program (which has been running for twelve years), has created change in the fire management practices on the ground.

Cape York Sustainable Future’s (CYSF) Fire and Biodiversity program has been instrumental in fire planning and coordination and on ground implementation of fire management practices, particularly in the MitchellColeman sub-regions. Aaron Crosbie, CYSF Operations Manager, has taken a hands-on approach to fire management.

“We’ve been working locally with Traditional Owners, pastoralists, and the Kowanyama Aboriginal Land and Natural Resource Management Office (KALNRMO), and have noticed significant change in how land is 6 being managed using fire, during this time” he said.

“Local engagement is key to a regional approach to land management, and working locally feeds directly into our regional planning” he said.

Traditional owners and CYSF staff have noticed increased biodiversity at Oriners and Sefton in southern Cape York, since traditional burning practices have been re-introduced on the country.

The properties, which cover around 3000 square kilometres, were purchased by the Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council, allowing Traditional Owners to return to country and re-instate traditional burning practices.

Daniel Maddalena volunteers with KALBRMO and works with CYSF during the fire season.

“The Traditional Owners have directed the burns. They direct where and when to burn,” Mr Maddalena said.

“This year, I have noticed a big increase in biodiversity. There are definitely more birds since the burns started,” he Maddalena said.

Fire is part of life on Cape York, and strong evidence suggests that changed burning regimes have contributed to loss of biodiversity and wildfire. Peter Thompson, who has long been involved with CYSF’s fire project, said late dry season burns can change the landscape.

“When grasslands burn in the late dry, they are unable to regenerate until the rain comes. Trees, on the other hand have deep root systems, which seek out water underground. Melaleucas love fire, and will spread into areas which were previously grasslands,” Mr Thompson said.

An important tool to the Cape York Fire and Biodiversity Program and to the on-ground work and planning is the Northern Australia Fire Information (NAFI) website. Established in 2003 by CYSF, Tropical Savannas Management CRC, and Charles Darwin University, it records fires as they happen through the regular interpretation and mapping of satellite imagery data. Landholders now rely on the site to monitor fires in the fire season.

“This saves time and resources, as in the past landholders had to physically drive over their properties to monitor fires. The web site saves days of their time,” Mr Thompson said.

The fire project has also made some significant in-roads in building relationships across the region.

“People have been working together, sharing their knowledge, resources and time. This is fundamental to the continuation of good practice in fire management and is one of the best outcomes of the project,” Mr Crosbie said.

Mr Maddalena agreed: “Because of this project and the support of the traditional knowledge of Phillip Yam and Louie Native, the KALNRMO, surrounding property owners and CYSF, people have been able to get back out onto country – which is essential for ongoing fire management. People need to be there to look after Country, it can’t be done from afar” he said.

The combination of real time data from the NAFI site and improved fire regimes with people who are on country has led to improved biodiversity, better grazing land, improved relationships and better information.

The team from CYSF concurred with how important it is that this works and continues in the long-term

The finalised Cape York Fire Management Plan is due for release soon.For more information contact Aaron Crosbie at CYSF on (07) 4053 2856. www.cypda.com.au/programs and www.firenorth.org.au/nafi2