Fire in North East Queensland

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 understanding.

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.