As the bushfires rage on and on, now in every state of Australia, the question of how to manage and prevent bushfire prevalence seems not to have been asked? Why not ask indigenous people, who have lived here for 65,000 years or more? Since there were few major bushfires till Europeans arrived, perhaps indigenous people could help solve this problem.
How Important are the Current Season’s Bushfires?
Each day I look for numbers. How many bushfires are there? How much land has been burned? How many homes have been lost? How many deaths have occurred? This gives some scale and importance to the size of the problem we are experiencing.
The number of fires is enormous, even though not all ‘fires’ are of the same magnitude or importance. Normally there are several fires, but only 1-2 big ones. This year there are hundreds of fires and many big ones. Overall, historic devastation of the land is occurring (some 15% of all the NSW land ever likely to burn has burned…but this still leaves 85% available to burn…).
The number of homes lost is not being focussed on as it was previously. Fire services are reporting ‘buildings’ (including sheds and other constructions) lost more than ‘homes’, which suggests to me that the firefighters are doing a great job of protecting homes, while fires rage in bushland. Similarly, the number of deaths – 8 was the last number I saw – bears no comparison to the 135 who died in Victoria on Black Saturday some 10 years ago.
What’s Causing the Fires?
I’m not even going to raise the ‘climate change’ link. It’s so obvious, it’s not debatable.
What doesn’t seem to be discussed is how the individual fires are being caused. Often it is arson, but I haven’t seen this mentioned for a single fire. I’m assuming they are being caused by burning embers from earlier fires starting new fires. Knowing the causes is critical to understanding what is happening…and ‘climate change’ is not the answer at the individual fire level.
How to Prevent or Manage Bushfires in Future?
More importantly, the question of how to prevent or manage bushfires in the future is not being discussed at all! Again, ‘addressing climate change’ is not the short-term answer, nor is ‘not having a drought’.
Perhaps indigenous people, who have lived in this landscape for 65,000 years or more might have useful knowledge and answers to this…but no one seems to be asking them….
What might they say?
1. Run small, cool, controlled burns
Top End visitors observe that smoke is common in the landscape. That’s how indigenous people manage the land. They light small grass fires frequently, in cool months, in patches according to vegetation type, at the edge of ecosystems. They let them burn (often without supervision), self-extinguish (!!) and let nature regenerate from the burnt earth.
They do not burn the canopy (trees), as this is the escape route for nature during a burn.
2. Manage the landscape
Europeans have devastated the natural land with hard-hoofed animals and wide-scale clearing. ‘Green’ Europeans try to counter this by developing thick bushland reserves with wide-scale re-planting. They also oppose clearing fallen debris in the name of ‘natural systems’, resulting in largescale dry wood available to burn below the large trees should a fire come through.
Indigenous people had much smaller clearings, but burnt their treed areas regularly, rather than allowing the buildup of debris on the ground from fallen leaves, branches and trees.
Both of these issues – controlled burning and managing what we plant, where and the debris – are largely opposed by Europeans – ie ‘us’.
What might happen if we asked indigenous people to take charge of managing the landscape….??
“Here it is. We have screwed it up. What do you propose we do with it?’ is a question we Europeans are not currently prepared to ask…probably because we won’t like the answer.
Of course, what worked for indigenous people with a low population in Australia 200 years ago and what might work now with a population of 25 million people might be quite different. But what if we actually asked the question,
‘What do you think we should do?’
Clearly what we Europeans are doing is no longer workable. Other solutions are needed…and expert people who know the landscape and the land….exist. Let’s use the experts.