Integrating cultural heritage and fire management on Bribie Island

Kerry Jones (Kabi Kabi First Nation) and Dave Kington (Vegetation Management Services) measuring the girth of a large Swamp Mahogany (Lophostemon suaveolens) in eucalypt woodland on Bribie Island. Photo credit Susie Chapman.

As part of its work within the Moreton Bay Ramsar Wetland (funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program), Healthy Land and Water is working with local Traditional Owners (Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people), the Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Vegetation Management Services, and Turnstone Archaeology to reconsider the role of fire in the culturally rich landscapes of Bribie Island.

Cultural fire management is not simply burning, but involves cultural practices on Country that protect, maintain, and sustain values across landscapes and vegetation communities. These communities include fire-prone and fire sensitive ecosystems which offer opportunities for landscape management across cultural heritage and ecological concerns. Preserving these values is akin to preserving the very foundations of Indigenous cultural heritage on Bribie Island.

 

Melaleuca quinquenervia wetlands near Lighthouse Reach. Photo credit Paul Donatiu.

 

So, what are some of these landscape elements?

The retention of large remnant Bloodwoods, Blue Gums, Brush Box, Swamp Box, Swamp Mahogany, and Cypress pine in eucalypt woodland is extremely important to Traditional Owners. Their existence in this flammable landscape is evidence of many centuries of cultural management. These trees have (retained) cultural alterations and provide strong cultural connections to Country. For example, Swamp Mahogany (Lophostemon suaveolens) was and remains an important tree for building canoes.  While many of the old growth remnant trees have been killed by wildfire in the past, there are a few areas on the Island where they have survived and protecting these trees from wildfires in the future is critical.

Managing fire for cultural heritage outcomes is also beneficial for conserving biodiversity. Intense wildfires produce “whipstick regeneration” with a profusion of thin straggly stems, only a few species present, and virtually no understorey. Cooler burns not only allow the big trees to survive, but enable a rich understorey of grasses, herbs, forbs, and orchids to return.

In this way, Traditional Owners – in consultation with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers and Vegetation Management Services – are considering how to manage fire in a way that promotes the cultural heritage-based recovery of eucalypt woodland. Vegetation Management Services is developing a case study for the Lighthouse Reach area to guide future planning. Current thinking is that regular cool burns and targeted manual removal of whip-stick stems will help shift eucalypt woodland with a shrubby understorey to open woodland with a grassy understorey. This will allow for easier passage of wildlife and air movement to reduce mosquito pressure. Additional surveys are needed across many parts of Bribie Island to determine the full extent of cultural heritage elements that need to be preserved from disturbance, such as uncontrolled wildfire.

 

This project is supported by Healthy Land and Water, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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