By Jan Aldenhoven
January 2014 saw much of North Stradbroke Island engulfed in wildfire
No human life or human property was lost.
All those involved in fighting the fire and supporting those fighting did a magnificent job. The community pulled together to help each other. But what were the impacts on the bush?
The following article by Jan Aldenhoven first appeared in SIN March 2014.
Many plants are now sprouting from lignotubers, storage units held underground, or from epicormic buds that have lain dormant under bark. Grass trees pushed out green within days of being burnt. The sturdy seed capsules of some banksias are only opened by the heat of fire. Other seeds are stimulated to germinate by smoke.
Scribbly gum bark reflects heat, and the golden trunks stand in stark contrast to the charred fibrous bark of other species: two different strategies to protect the inner tree and its epicormic buds. Now the outer carapace of the scribbly gum is falling away and the shiny new skin beneath is adorned with bunches of new leaves.
Clearly plants know their stuff. They have been weathering fires for a long time.
The rains of the past two years ensured the peat beds of the swamps didn’t burn, providing a refuge for frogs and other aquatic life to burrow into. Eighteen Mile Swamp flushed green so quickly it was hard to believe it had been burnt at all. Other swamps were soon dotted with flowering trigger plants and sundews, taking advantage of the opportunities fire brought.
But there are concerns and questions
Sensitive species in fire shadow areas burnt: tall tree ferns and rainforest pockets. Elsewhere, grand old trees hundreds of years old succumbed. How well will mining-rehabilitation areas recover?
Long-term residents can’t remember a fire that burnt so much of the island at one time. Sixty per cent of the island was affected. Those animals that couldn’t find shelter were incinerated. Thousands died.
The Australian bush is adapted to fire but critically, different plant communities need different fire regimes. The periodicity and intensity are important.
Too-frequent fires will not allow some plants to mature to produce adequate seed. Too long between fires, and some species disappear. Too little rain after fire will exhaust plants.
Aboriginal people have been in Australia for some 70,000 years, and for 21,000 years on Stradbroke. Aboriginal burning practices have shaped habitat diversity.
In times past it seems very unlikely that Quandamooka People would have risked half the island burning in one hit. So what was their burning practice?
Piecing together and synthesising knowledge – traditional, local and scientific – is the challenge ahead. Climate change is giving us more frequent and more intense fires. We want to protect the townships and infrastructure, but no one wants to sacrifice huge swathes of bushland to do so. The process of review and planning is under way.
The months ahead could be an opportunity to tackle the fox and wild dog problem on the island. The local Wildlife Forum is working with agencies to come up with a plan.
In 2007, the drought focused our attention on the island’s hydrology. Now is our opportunity to understand more about fire for our own sake and that of the bush.
Help the bush recover
– Slow down and watch out for wildlife when driving.
– Stick to roads and designated tracks so not to disturb regeneration or spread weeds and disease.
– Keep dogs in an enclosed yard or on a lead except in designated off leash areas.
– Be aware of fire regulations and stick to them.
– Keep a tidy camp and don’t let bins overflow, as this will encourage proliferation of feral animals that target native species trying to recolonise.
– Report sick and injured wildlife to 0407 766 052
– Report feral animal sightings and fox dens to 07 3829 8999
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