The state of the environment: Cultural burning

The recently released State of the Environment Report has attracted a lot of media attention. This article in The Conversation looks at what the report says in relation to cultural burning and ‘institutional’ bushfire management programs – ‘planned’ or ‘prescribed’ burns.

While the article refers to 25 years of research in the ‘stone country’ of the Arnhem Land Plateau, one of the observations is that ‘once the ecological benefits of cultural burning are lost, they cannot be simply restored with mainstream fire management approaches’ using the cypress pine (Callitris spp.) as a case study.

Arnhem Land, NT. [Photo by Vladimir Haltakov on Unsplash}

One of the differences the article highlights is that ‘institutional fire management’ tends to be large-scale, and ‘based on concepts of efficiency and generality. It is controlled by bureaucracies, and achieved using machines and technologies’. It is an ‘industrial approach’ rather than using ‘place-based’ knowledge and close relationships with Country.

Here is the link to the article: New research in Arnhem Land reveals why institutional fire management is inferior to cultural burning (the full research report is here –

Bu can we use both traditional knowledge and technology? A recently webinar by Australian Wildlife Conservancy on jointly-managed areas in the Kimberley highlighted that helicopters were being used to conduct cultural burning in remote locations. Instead of the helicopter flying a ‘standard’ pattern and the operator dropping incendiaries at regular intervals, the approach was that a traditional owner/elder for each patch of Country would be in the helicopter and determine precisely where fire was to be released into the landscape. Many helicopter trips no doubt, but sounds like a great example of combining and using knowledge, connections and technology.

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