Cultural Burning: A Path to Resilience and Land Restoration

For this year’s World Environment Day, the theme is Generation Restoration. Restoration means building fire, flood, and drought resilience. Today, ABV is reminded of the incredible lessons we learned at the Cultural Burning Conference facilitated with the Bateman's Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council in 2023.

You may have heard the term "cultural burning", but wondered how this practice is different to other methods. Keep reading to find out.

Hazard reduction burning involves deliberately starting fires under controlled conditions to clear out low-lying flammable material, sometimes called "prescribed" burning. It is not the same as "back burning", which is done as a last resort to try to slow down an approaching wildfire by stripping the ground of vegetation. Currently fire management agencies use a combination of the techniques.

Cultural burning is creating healthy country to encourage endemic (found in the specific area) species and country that holds fire resilience which can be understood through relationship to the land and reading indicators.

At the conference, delegates witnessed the calmness of the process. Everyone was walking and talking around the fire with no sense of danger, which shocked some of the agencies who have seen burning in action before.

Cultural burning takes a holistic approach, intertwining spiritual, social, and environmental aspects. The difference with a cultural burn is that the fire burns "low and slow", preserving the integrity of the soil and preventing regrowth for longer than typical backburning methods. The heat point doesn't damage the earth and promotes the growth of the natives of the area that are used for medicine and are fed on by the wildlife.

Above: Adam Nye, Walbunja Ranger teaching the group about medicinal plants and bush tucker.

When a fire is too rapid and hot, invasive species grow back as other seeds are destroyed. The bush that grows back is dense and at a high risk of igniting in hot conditions. We watched as insects and lizards slowly moved away from the fire, demonstrating that the circular shape of the fire allows time and space for wildlife to escape instead of running towards the fire in confusion.

The Walbunja Rangers shared with us that their connection to country underpins all their practice of putting fire down. Observing migratory/behavioural patterns of wildlife, foliage density, species types which then provide a guide for when to burn. The "when" is perhaps what we have gotten most wrong with other hazard reduction methods. Often, we have been too late leading to disasters like 2007’s Black Saturday and the 2019-2020 Black Summer.

Above: Rangers Andrew White and Adam Nye bending the stems of the low-lying plants to prevent the fire jumping up to the canopy leaves.

Cultural burning has been a practice for over 60,000 years that First Nations people have used to protect and regenerate the land, yet it is not incorporated into mainstream prevention methods.

There is currently no cultural fire land management legislative and policy conventions across National Parks, Crown Lands, State Parks, Forestry Corp, Council land and private land.

Please share this article to help educate and raise awareness about this practice.

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#GenerationRestoration #WorldEnvironmentDay

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