[ASC-media] 'Victoria' burns in the North

Jenni Metcalfe jenni at econnect.com.au
Mon Aug 9 18:06:20 EST 2004

Victoria' burns in the north
For immediate release, August 9


Satellite imagery showing an area the size of Victoria burning in northern Queensland is typical, according to Bryan Cifuentes from Cairns Rural Fire Service.


"These sorts of wildfires can be devastating to the fragile country of northern Australia," Mr Cifuentes said. "They destroy pastoral properties, burn rare fragile habitats important to tourism and biodiversity and cause massive soil erosion.


"Fire is a natural part of the Australian landscape so if a property owner does not use fire at the right time, late season wildfires will occur that people have far less control over."


Although much is heard about the bushfires in southern Australia, 70 percent of the land that burns each year occurs in the tropical savanna regions of northern Australia (map showing extent of wildfires across Australia is available). 


In response to northern Australia's most important issue, the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) has provided $1.9 million to the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to develop, implement and monitor guidelines for best managing fire across northern Australia.


The new CRC project will develop the capacity of Aboriginal, pastoral and conservation land managers to manage fires across northern Australia, said CRC Project Leader, Jeremy Russell-Smith, from the Northern Territory Bushfires Council.


"This is the first project to share fire management knowledge across the savanna lands of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia," he said. "While a lot of valuable regional research has been done so far, this has largely been restricted to parts of the Top End of the NT.


"But most importantly, if this project wasn't happening northern Australia's tropical savanna landscape would continue to be creamed by too many fires burning over too much of the landscape at the wrong times of the year. Managing fire in the north is just as important as managing it in the south of Australia."


Fire affects the conservation of every animal species in northern Australia. And according to researchers, there has been broadscale decline of many animal species adapted to the fire patterns present prior to European settlement. 


For example, the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot is dependent on Cape York's grasslands. And with less hot fires in this region, these grasslands are being invaded by paper bark trees reducing the range and abundance of these parrots.


Dr Russell-Smith said one of the best things about the project was that it involved employing people to directly work with graziers, Aboriginal groups and conservation managers.


"One of the biggest problems is achieving cultural change," he said. "We need to overcome this by getting people involved and doing it collaboratively. This means getting black fellas working with the white fellas next door. With such remote areas, we need to help people to rely on their own resources. 


"It's about breaking down the barriers and getting government agencies responding to community needs rather than just trying to direct things from Brisbane, Darwin or Perth.


For interview: 

Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith, phone (08) 8979 0772    mob. 0439 820 104

Mr Bryan Cifuentes, phone 0407 365 709


For media assistance: Jenni Metcalfe, phone 0408 551 866, jenni at econnect.com.au

Peter Jacklyn, phone 08 8946 6285, 0439 820 104, peter.jacklyn at cdu.edu.au


Satellite images, maps and photos (as jpeg files) are available showing the fires in northern Australia


Also see: www.firenorth.org.au to see where fires are currently burning in northern Australia - click on a region and see if there have been any fires in the last 12 hours

Savannas are tree-grass landscapes covering almost a half of Australia. They are important to northern Australia supporting the pastoral, mining and tourism industries, worth many millions of dollars. While they are well known in Africa for supporting large animals like lions and elephants, in Australia they are important conservation areas supporting many different types of plants and animals. Importantly, these landscapes also support a large population of Indigenous people in varying forms of land use including, traditional activities. 


Jenni Metcalfe
Econnect Communication Pty Ltd
PO Box 734
South Brisbane Q 4101

Phones: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866; 07 3254 0354 (home)
Fax: 07 3846 7144
Email: jenni at econnect.com.au
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