Flowers Can Follow Fire in Forests: David Ward

SOME say that fuel reduction burning harms the bush. Others say it creates and maintains healthy vegetation, and avoids uncontrollable wildfires. Natural science is unlikely to resolve the debate, since both sides can produce refereed papers to support their views. Clearly, not all refereed papers are correct, but it is a mammoth task to track down all errors, and those with poor philosophy may be swayed by numbers of papers, rather than quality. Others may be fooled by authors with high sounding academic titles. A professor must be right. Some papers are statistically dodgy, and others simply omit part of the truth.

At the same time, the news media offer their partial truth with pictures of leaping flames, swooping water bombers, and convoys of fire trucks. Politicians see photo opportunities, and offer carefully selected sound bites. We see little of the post-fire benefits of bushfire. Does philosophy have a role to play?

In a multi-cultural society, why not borrow from the Hindus? Their trinity is Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Conservator, and Shiva the Destroyer. Bushfire includes all these processes, but the news media, environmentalists, and some research scientists, usually show us only the face of Shiva, or even that of his cruel wife Kali.

The Australian public need to know the creative and conservative roles of Brahma and Vishnu, in the form of nutrient release, improved vegetation health, growth, flowering, seed production and germination, and the innocuous nature of fires in light fuels. Saraswati and Lakshmi have roles to play too, in bushfire research, education, and human well being.

The news media can help to restore some philosophical balance, by shedding the shackles of boring sensationalism. I realise that twenty metre flames are more exciting, to many, than mild flames, less than a metre high. Blackened forest is more visually startling than tiny emergent post-fire seedlings. But is it not important for journalists to tell the whole truth?wildflowers

© David J. Ward (aka Green Davey) March 2014
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Picture of wildflowers in John Forrest National Park, Perth, one year after a mild spring fire.

Other posts from David Ward include:
http://jennifermarohasy.com/2009/04/the-mathematics-of-connectivity-and-bushfire/
http://jennifermarohasy.com/2005/06/noongars-knew-best/

13 Responses to Flowers Can Follow Fire in Forests: David Ward

  1. Pathway March 5, 2014 at 5:06 am #

    Many ecosystems are fire dependent. Removal of climax vegetation favors grazers and browsers, which we humans like to eat. Pretty flowers are just the icing on the cake.

  2. spangled drongo March 5, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    That picture tells it well. The secret is a mild or “cool” burn, regularly. And planting of native “fire resistant” trees [non eucalypt, rainforest types] as much as possible to undo the 40,000 years of relentless burning.

  3. Beth Cooper March 5, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    What has worked for a thousand years or more will likely last a thousand more,
    Haven’t read this but have read JM and DW insightful comments on traditional
    land practices in Oz. ” David Gammage. ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth.’

  4. Mark March 5, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Agree Beth. Gammage has spent a decade or more studying landscape and aboriginal practice. He shows up the poor quality “managers” we now have running our national parks. In no time at all, in their quest for “wilderness”, the have turned our bush into pest ridden fire death traps.

  5. spangled drongo March 5, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    We may have poor quality “managers” these days but 40,000 years of relentless burning to flush out wildlife, make spears and boomerangs more destructive and accurate and remove rainforest so that naked people could sleep on the ground, free of ticks and leeches, was not the most suitable management practice from an environmental POV, either.

  6. DaveW March 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Dear Drongo,

    My understanding is that ‘rainforest’ trees are not fire-resistant and since the Miocene have been increasingly restricted to fire-proof areas: high rainfall, deep soils, sheltered locations. It is true that you can see rainforest trees expanding their hold in places (cool temperate rainforest in parts of Victoria come to mind), but this is a result of current fire protection strategies. Eucalypts and acacias are the true fire-resistant trees, not the rainforest species.

    Whatever effects the fire-stick culture that Australians used before they became incorporated into the World culture may have had on rainforests, it must have on average contributed to the ‘cool burns’ you think important. Without the constant burning, less frequent and more catastrophic burns would be expected and these would have tended to reduce rainforest. The descriptions I’ve read of Botany Bay at the time of British colonization were of parklike arrays of large gum trees with little understory. That can only have resulted from infrequent catastrophic fires.

    If you are living in the Big Scrub or other cleared areas that can support rainforest regeneration, then it makes sense to plant those species, but I don’t think that will work in most areas of Australia where sclerophyll forests would be the natural cover, with or without people lighting fires.

  7. Ken Stewart March 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    What is “natural” in Australia? Humans have been altering the environment for thousands of years. Humans need somewhere safe to live, and need to grow food and fibre. Hazard reduction- firebreaks, clearing back fuel, cool burn offs when safe- must be mandated. Learn to live with fire.

  8. tom harley March 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    We have been promoting a return to firestick farming kind of fire control in the north too, it is not just beneficial to the flora, but fauna needs cool burning to survive as well: http://pindanpost.com/2013/03/22/the-end-of-firestick-farming/
    Thanks, an excellent post, borrowed, if that’s OK!
    A scientist from Darwin had done some excellent work on this a decade ago, but I cannot remember his name, also Peter Latz, a botanist from Alice Springs has an excellent book called Bushfires and Bushtucker that is worth getting.
    Fire is very useful when used correctly.

  9. spangled drongo March 5, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Dave, there are many rain forest trees that grow and survive very well in medium rainfall, average soil and temperate climates and they do not produce fuel to anywhere like the extent of acacias and eucalypts.

    If you develop a big enough barrier of these forests they offer more protection even though they will still burn if attacked by hot fire but much less readily than acacias and eucalypts.

    If you keep burning rainforests they naturally will die out, unlike acacias and eucalypts but you have to attack them with fires started in the A&E areas.

  10. DaveW March 6, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Ken – good question, but what is ‘natural’ anywhere? At least in Western culture, ‘natural’ is usually taken to be nature without people or human influence (except, perhaps, ‘noble savages’).

    ‘Nature’ like ‘native’ (from the Latin for someone born a slave) are words that are hard to do without, but come with a lot of baggage and not much precision.

  11. jennifer March 6, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    There has been a whole series at this blog on the concept of ‘Wilderness’… http://jennifermarohasy.com/tag/wilderness/page/2/

    We only got to part 12. What about essays from Dave and Ken on their own personal concepts of ‘wilderness’?

  12. jennifer March 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Tom, Beth… how do you define ‘wilderness’?

  13. jennifer March 8, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    Amazed to see this article… http://www.care2.com/causes/aboriginal-australians-managed-the-forest-better-than-europeans.html

    Aboriginal Australians Managed the Forest Better than Europeans
    S . E. Smith
    March 6, 2014

    Australia’s notorious bushfires are often international news, but close to home, they’re less newsworthy than they are terrifying for Australians with painful memories of homes and lives lost. Much of the country can become a tinderbox thanks to its location and climate conditions — and don’t jump to assume climate change is only reason, because evidence suggests that fire has played a critical role in the ecological history of Australia for thousands of years…

    Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/aboriginal-australians-managed-the-forest-better-than-europeans.html#ixzz2vKuC8FYo

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