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Managing Our Natural Assets After Fire

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Healthy Environments

Nearly two months on, our thoughts are still with those who lost property, livestock and livelihoods to the Shackleton-Corrigin fires.

In a landscape that has evolved with fire, but has in recent history been transformed by agriculture, the fire will bring mixed blessings for the ecology of the area as the land recovers. How we manage the land will have a huge impact on the long-term outcomes for the natural assets of the area. Recent mapping based on Landsat-derived NDVI, we conservatively estimate the burn area to be around 36,500 ha.

Despite the burn area having less than 10% native remnant vegetation cover prior to the fires, an impressive list of natural assets may have been impacted. Whether the impacts are adverse or beneficial may not be apparent for some years, but we know that intense summer fires can be very destructive, particularly if followed closely by poor winter rain and more fire.

Our mapping has revealed;

  • 77% of the remnant vegetation affected by these fires is mapped as critically endangered Eucalyptus woodlands.
  • Twenty-six reserved areas are in the burn area including Sorensen’s Nature Reserve known to harbor important threatened species.
  • Habitat for five threatened flora including the critically endangered Rhizanthella gardneri (western underground orchid).
  • Habitat for six threatened fauna species (recorded within 5km of the burn area) including Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo and malleefowl.

The Short Term Impacts Of Fire

The short-term impacts may be seen in the proliferation of grassy weeds that are able to more easily colonise the area disturbed by fire. Weeds are known to suppress the germination of eucalyptus seedlings and compete with native recruits for resources. This reduces the diversity and health of the native bush as well as contributing to the fuel load for subsequent fires. On the upside, intense fires produce an ash bed of nutrients that are beneficial for seedling establishment if followed by good rainfall to get seedlings through the first summer.

However, the burning of large debris (hollows) that form these ash beds removes habitat for native fauna. The loss of standing hollows that can take up to 200 years to form in trees can be devastating for parrot and cockatoo species. Moderate intensity autumn mosaic burns every 50-100 years are recommended to regenerate non-obligate seeder species to ensure hollows are available.

What Action Can Be Taken To Help These Natural Areas Recover From Fire?

There are important steps that can be taken to help this area’s natural assets recover:

  • Keep stock out of recovering remnants – stock sheltering in burnt remnants will increase pressure on surviving vegetation and germinating seedlings while also introducing weeds. • Where possible, keep fires out of remnants as they recover.
  • Where hollow logs and large old hollow-bearing trees have been destroyed by fire, provide artificial habitat for wildlife species – such as nest boxes for tree dwellers and rock piles or other shelters for ground-dwelling species.
  • Where possible, monitor and control weeds that establish within the remnant – we understand with everything else going on, this may not be practical, however if you have the time this would be valuable.
  • Depending on the condition of the bushland prior to burning, revegetation might be necessary to improve the chances of recovery – healthy bushlands with limited weeds may recover well after a fire, without the need for revegetation. Areas that were previously very weedy, may need more assistance in the recovery process.
  • Photo-monitoring the recovery of burnt vegetation – this involves setting up or identifying a post that can be easily returned to every 6 months or year to take a photo in the same direction. This is particularly beneficial if you have a photo of the same area from prior to the fires.

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