Territory Stories

Desert fire : fire and regional land management in the arid landscapes of Australia



Desert fire : fire and regional land management in the arid landscapes of Australia

Other title

edited by GP Edwards and GE Allan


Edwards, Glenn P; Allan, G. E.


E-Publications; E-Books; PublicationNT; DKCRC Report 37




Date:2009; Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).

Table of contents

Executive summary -- 1. Introduction and overview of Desert Fire -- 2. Managing fire in the southern Tanami Desert -- 3. Aboriginal burning issues in the southern Tanami: towards understanding tradition-based fire knowledge in a contemporary context -- 4. Pastoralists’ perspectives on the costs of widespread fires in the pastoral lands of the southern Northern Territory region of central Australia, 2000–02 -- 5. A review of fire management on central Australian conservation reserves: towards best practice -- 6. The fire history of Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve 1984–2005.




Fire Management -- Australia, Central

Publisher name

Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre

Place of publication

Alice Springs


DKCRC Report 37


iii, 338 p. : col. ill. ; 30 cm.

File type



1741581125; 1741581109





Copyright owner

Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre



Parent handle


Citation address


Page content

Desert Knowledge CRC 09Desert Fire: f i re and regional land management in the ar id landscapes of Austral ia Ch : Aboriginal burning issues in the southern Tanami: tradition-based fire knowledge pp. 98 particularly in relation to the rights of Aboriginal people under the Native Title and Land Rights Act (D. Alexander pers. comm. 2004, R. Tuckwell pers. comm. 2005), which would imply that it could also be unclear to Warlpiri. 3.5.7 Environmental issues The general belief among informants was that, since Aboriginal people have stopped burning regularly, the country is no longer broken up. Therefore when a hot, large fire comes, it travels extensively, killing off valuable wildlife, habitat and vegetation (G. Allan pers. comm. 2004, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005). Several informants also pointed out that the introduction of the widespread highly flammable, and fire tolerant buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) has increased the intensity and frequency of roadside ignitions, where fuel loads are increased due to road water run-off (F. Walsh pers. comm. 2004). Even though roadsides were perceived by some informants to assist in breaking up the country and be a form of fire break, the continual hot fires along these roads were considered to have negative impacts on the biodiversity of these areas for several reasons. Firstly, it was perceived by some informants that since people continually travel along the same major roads, the same areas are burnt more often. This type of burning changes the composition of the landscape, with frequently no fuel load left along the major roads, yet a lot of fuel load still left in between the roads (G. Allan pers. comm. 2004, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005). When fuel loads build up, particularly after big rains, and a hot, large fire goes through, wildlife and vegetation, including seed sources may not recover for years (J. Morse pers. comm. 2005, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005). Also, in the areas where there are no roads, and therefore often no burning, fuel loads had an opportunity to build up, therefore increasing the chance of damage by hot and destructive fires to these long-unburnt areas (G. Allan pers. comm. 2004, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005). In general, the entire composition of the central Australian landscape was perceived by many informants to have been altered, in part due to changed fire regimes. The size of spinifex plants in particular was observed to be huge in some areas where Aboriginal people had not entered, and therefore not burnt, for a long time (H. Bland pers. comm. 2004, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005, R. Kimber pers. comm. 2006). Several informants were concerned that when such high fuel areas were finally burnt, usually in a hot and uncontrolled wildfire, other plant communities in these areas could be destroyed. This was perceived by some informants to be a major reason why there are so few old tree stands found, particularly when the edges of these plant communities are made up of highly flammable species such as spinifex. In particular, it was noted that there were very few mulga stands over the age of 50 years left in central Australia, primarily because of these extensive, hot fires (P. Latz pers. comm. 2005, J. Benshemesh pers. comm. 2005). Several participants stated that changed fire regimes affect four major environmental values, in particular: fauna, weeds, riverine areas and land composition. Large, high intensity fires were seen as greatly contributing to the exceptionally high mid-sized mammal extinction rates in central Australia, due to such fires destroying animals habitat and food source. With the lack of habitat, middle-sized mammals in particular are at a much greater risk of being exposed to predators (J. Benshemesh pers. comm. 2005, P. Latz pers. comm. 2005). Paltridges research in the southern Tanami and near Uluru found that there used to be many threatened species such as bilby (Macrotis lagotis), mulgara (Dasycercus criticauda), and great desert skink (Egernia kintorei) in these areas, but that very few individuals of these species are recorded there now (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2004). However, it was thought that a possible reason for the decline in these species was the recent decimation of the rabbit population due to calicivirus, with foxes having substituted a diet of rabbits with one of skinks and other native animals (R. Paltridge pers. comm. 2005). It should also be pointed out that, apart from the effect of predators on native species populations, rainfall patterns are also crucial in determining fauna numbers, otherwise know as the boom and crash cycle (see Dickman et al. 1999).

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