Ongoing research at Sydney University by a group lead by Rick Shine suggests Australia’s most endangered snake would benefit from more controlled burns.
Researcher David Pike, at his Sydney University home page, goes as far as to suggest that:
“Following European settlement of Australia, the amount of vegetation (i.e., canopy shading) in many habitats has increased. The most likely causes for this change are the prevention of natural disturbance events, such as wildfires, and the cessation of aboriginal fire-stick farming, which aboriginal peoples used to effectively managed habitat for wildlife and food plants. In more recent times vegetation has encroached upon crucial habitat for the broad-headed snake, which is already restricted in distribution. This has caused a decrease in the amount of suitable overwintering habitat, and potentially has contributed to a range-wide decline.”
There is also evidence to suggest a decline in populations of grassland birds in Australia’s extensive rangelands due to the encroachment of native woody weeds onto these grasslands.
The Australian Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, recently gave the Victorian government an exemption under the relevant federal legislation so it could undertake control burns to prevent further loss of life during the recent horrific Victorian bush fires.
Professor Shine and his group acknowledge that controlled burns can be expensive and dangerous to implement, and propose that in such situations “foresters might clear overhanging vegetation in areas known to be important to the snakes.”
There are alternatives, grazing with the right species of livestock avoids the risks associated with burnings and can keep vegetation in check. Now what are the chances of permission to control graze to increase biodiversity?
The photograph of the snake is republished, with permission, from http://www.bio.usyd.edu.au/Shinelab/students/davidpike/david.html
Endangered snake needs burning to survive: scientists. ABC News Online, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090324091207.htm
Permission for the Victorian Government to Burn Bushland, http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/notices/pubs/statement-of-reasons-vic-bushfires.pdf