Fire and land use
The major land use in North East Queensland is pastoralism,
however there is a significant difference between the grazing
properties of this region and others in the northern Australia, and
that is the property size. In Queensland, there are many more
smaller properties than in the NT or the Kimberley. This factor has
had a significant impact on the way property owners are able to use
fire as a management tool.
In general, larger holdings allow for greater flexibility in
that cattle can be moved from one area to another where pasture is
best. On smaller holdings, margins for error are much narrower.
This means that smaller property owners can therefore find
themselves in a kind of Catch 22: if they burn, they risk losing
valuable pasture; if they don't, their properties are more
susceptible to woody weed invasion which, in the long term, will
out-compete many pasture species.
Changes in pastoral management
Changes in pastoral management have had an enormous effect on
how much pasture there is available to burn. Many factors have
resulted in less pasture to burn - for example, supplementary
feeding, where cattle are able to eat much more of the standing
matter. In addition, Bos indicus has become the preferred livestock
breed because of their ability to withstand drought and to graze
more efficiently. Improved transportation has had a similar effect,
in that it is now easier to move cattle to those areas where
pasture is best. Grazing efficiency has improved overall, but the
end result is that there is generally less pasture.
Effect of drought
In addition, this region has suffered severe drought for the
previous 10 years, so land managers have been especially reluctant
to burn. However, in many areas the previous two seasons have been
good ones and as a result people are more willing, and able, to
begin using fire as a tool in their property management once again.
In fact, in many cases it is the only cost effective approach
available to deal with problems that have occurred largely as a
result of long term fire exclusion, in particular, the `thickening
up' of country under woody weeds or native tree species.
Burning as a management tool
Queensland Parks & Wildlife and the Queensland Department of
Natural Resources both maintain a comprehensive program of burning
aimed at maintaining or improving biodiversity levels.
Understanding continues to grow of the optimal fire frequency
required to sustain the ecological balance of various environments.
In addition, both of these agencies are concerned with public
safety and so carry out early dry-season burns to reduce fire
hazards later in the dry season. Public awareness of the necessity
of these burns continues to grow. Communication between these
departments and other land management agencies has improved in
recent years resulting in greater cooperation and mutual
Communication and public safety
For all of these agencies, and land managers opting to use fire
as a management tool, public safety is paramount. The public
relations campaign relaying the potential benefits of fire would be
seriously undermined if public safety concerns were seen in any way
to be jeopardised. The ultimate aim for all users of fire as a tool
is to maximize the positive effects and mimimise the negatives.