Fire season preparations in North West Victoria have been unusually innovative this year, drawing on traditional practices of the local Dja Dja Wurrung people to create “indigenous outcomes” such as encouraging bush tucker.
“That’s incredibly exciting work,” Scott Falconer, regional manager with Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) and a longstanding RACV member says. “We are intensively planning for burns on their land that will have indigenous outcomes (for example) burning their land to produce yams.”
Learn from traditional owners
Since being recognised in 2013 as traditional owners of more than 266,500 hectares of public land in central Victoria, the Dja Dja Wurrung community and Scott’s staff within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Bendigo have begun to learn from one another.
Fuel reduction burns are integral to the department’s work and Scott is enthused by the opportunity to link FFMV science with traditional knowledge and land care. Dja Dja Wurrung people have been hired as seasonal fire fighters with one travelling to Queensland to study indigenous fire management practices there.
Scott’s patch – the Loddon-Mallee region – covers more than seven million hectares including high-risk fire zones around Macedon and Gisborne and extends as far as Mildura.
Environmentally sensitive work
It is environmentally sensitive work and fuel reduction burns must account for conservation of plant and wildlife habitat.
“One of the most challenging things about land management is trying to balance multiple objectives: reducing risk, providing habitat, offering recreation,” Scott says.
“We’re carefully burning around Mallee Emu Wren populations because they need long unburned areas for habitat, but if we don’t burn (at all) one lightning strike can wipe out the population.”
Summer a tense time
Summer can be a tense, worrying time. Department fire fighters look after public land and state forests. “We still see ourselves as land managers … but fire is a huge component of our role.”
Despite an unusually wet winter fire, risk prospects this year remain unknown. “The last bad season was several years ago … a really wet year, a hot summer and fast moving grass fires. Last season we had a hot season but … January rains broke the season.”
The public can help, he says, by being aware of prevailing conditions and not putting themselves at risk. “The best place to be on a really bad day” – think high 30s temperatures and a hot north wind – “is generally at home. If you live in a high risk area you’ll already have a fire plan.”
Story: Ian Munro
Photo: Meredith O’Shea
Published in RoyalAuto Nov 2016
Prepare your bushfire survival plan
Visit cfa.vic.gov.au for advice on preparing your bushfire survival plan and to download a Fire Ready Kit.