Published: 25 Jan 2017
Widespread rain across the central and western deserts will drive dangerous wildfires, according to an alliance of Indigenous organisations.
Indigenous Desert Alliance spokesperson and Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) Healthy Country coordinator Gareth Catt has pointed to the need to learn from catastrophic past events by focusing on intensive planning and more Indigenous rangers on the ground for the year ahead.
“With these conditions, we are likely to see fires threaten remote communities, mines, pastoral properties and the values of the natural and cultural landscape, and that’s something we need to begin planning for now.
“After extreme rain events in the past, a huge amount of resources were injected into response initiatives rather than prevention. We can work together to avoid wildfires through fire planning, resourcing and implementation.
“Done well, prescribed burning across the deserts will limit the threat of wildfires,” he said.
Across the desert, Indigenous rangers have been burning country strategically to limit dangerous wildfires.
“Indigenous rangers in many communities have the skills and tools to take on broader scale fire management. Supporting this work and extending programs to communities and regions that have not had the opportunity build a ranger program will allow more country to be cared for.”
Indigenous rangers use a combination of traditional burning principles and modern technology and resources to burn low intensity fires that reduce the flammable vegetation that would fuel wildfires.
Implementing fire regimes in this way aligns with traditional values and practices for Indigenous Australians, and protects wildlife, cultural sites, communities and critical infrastructure.
On the back of a comparable rain event in 2010, fires of enormous proportions spread across the Tanami, Little Sandy Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Great Victoria Desert and Gibson Desert in 2011 and 2012. These fires damaged vegetation, reduced available cover for wildlife, and threatened homes, lives and property.
“Past efforts haven’t been adequate to prevent broad scale wildfire. We have an opportunity with this year’s rain to learn from previous experience and reduce the impact on our unique desert landscapes,” he said.
“The only way to reduce the impact of these extreme events is to support landholders, particularly Indigenous rangers, to conduct prescribed burning on their country.”
The Indigenous Desert Alliance is a collaboration of Indigenous land management organisations working across the deserts of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.