Tuesday 18 September 2007

Clearing the hillslopes...naturally

This was the scene this afternoon, driving towards Cairns on the Captain Cook White Imperialist Aboriginal Hating Highway, was one of total blurr as the smoke from natural wildfires covered the surrounding ranges around our town.

Natural and forced burning off is now occurring around many of the city's perimeter, and throughout Cape York. A substantial percentage of Cape York is burnt off each year, in a planned programme. Wildfires are a natural part of the earth's environment.
Fire is also a tool people use to help clear away forests for human developments. Annually, humans burn anywhere from 750,000 to 8.2 million square km of forest and grassland around the world. Fire is used in agriculture to clear canefields and help return nutrients to the soil. Prescribed fires also clear away dead and dying vegetation to help rejuvenate forests and reduce the risk of larger, uncontrolled wildfires. Aboriginal folk have been doing this for thousands of years.
Captain Cook, who passed along the Queensland Coast heading North in the hours of darkness in May 1770, recorded, "Our course at night was guided by the great number of fires on the shore". His Botinist, Joesph Banks, also noted this in his journals whilst berthed in the Endeavour River mouth, now known as Cooktown, when he sighted "Natives deliberately setting fires to the bushland"
It's said that when Aborigines arrived in Australia around 40,000 years ago (about 4:35pm in the afternoon), and soon introduced fire as part of their land management. There is abundant scientific evidence showing an increased frequency of fire by early Aborigines. According to Fraser Island Defenders Organization, fossil evidence proves that their arrival coincided with the loss of megafauna, including giant kangaroos, giant wombats and giant pythons. There is no conclusive evidence that Aborigines were responsible for the demise of the megafauna, however with the loss of such large herbivores, it would have been necessary to use fire to manage the vegetation which herbivores would have previously eaten or trampled.
This is the rationale for the very early development of Aboriginal fire management. The irony is that if a fire regime had not been introduced, many of the population would have been incinerated in the inevitable wildfires. After thousands of years of burning, the environment has adapted to the Aboriginal fire regime. Therefore, it's often believed that the maximum biodiversity can now be only achieved with the reinstatement of the Aboriginal fire regime.
The photo below is of the Western Cape York Peninsula, where several large fires were burning when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image in 2005. The actively burning areas of the fire are outlined in red. Several smoke plumes drift westward over the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Fire plays a crucial role in maintaining the grasslands of Cape York’s tropical savanna landscape. In the absence of fire, woody shrubs come to dominate the landscape.
They are able to do this because the more shallowly rooted grasses die back at the height of the dry season, while the more deeply rooted shrubs can continue to grow.
According to Australia’s Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, after 4 or 5 years without fires, grasslands may be completely lost to woodland dominated by the tea tree.
Visit NASA Earth Observatory to see the global-scale composite images of fires around the world.
So, now you know, it's not all bad.


Anonymous said...

Wildfire?? Do you mean bushfire?

Anonymous said...

And Beattie's dirty Wild Rivers Legislation took that right away from the people.

Anonymous said...

The smoke plumes are from Kevin Byrne's fart when he was in the area.

Anonymous said...

Oh yuck, God, thinking of KBs farts really does put one off ones dinner really, doesnt it ??