On Tuesday 30th August approximately 50 Undergraduate and Masters Students from 10 different countries visited Minyumai Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) to learn about the cultural and ecological values of the property and the innovative management strategies that are being implemented under the support of the Environmental Trust and the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) Firesticks Project. This opportunity has once again highlighted the value of IPAs as knowledge centres where students can experience first hand the value of combining Aboriginal cultural knowledge with contemporary science.
The day started with introductions from the Minyumai IPA Rangers, NCC Firesticks Team Members and visiting landholders, following this David Milledge the Firesticks Ecologist brought out a number of mammals caught the night before to show the group. These species included two species of small terrestrial mammals, the marsupial Yellow-footed Antechinus and a native rodent, the Grassland Melomys. Both are among a target group of small mammals being surveyed at Minyumai to assess the effects of applying traditional indigenous burning methods to sustain biodiversity. Four low flying micro-bat species were also shown, representing another target group being monitored to gauge the effects of using traditional burning methods. These bat species comprised Gould’s Long-eared Bat, the Threatened Little Bent-winged Bat, the Eastern Forest Bat and the Central-eastern Broad-nosed Bat, a species not yet scientifically described.
A focus of the visit was for students to review the innovative management strategies that the rangers are deploying to manage the invasive pasture grass Setaria (Setaria sphacelata var. sericea) on the property. Setaria is a legacy of past use of the property for grazing, a highly invasive grass growing in a wide range of habitats and tolerant of water-logging, a very persistent pest species which makes it difficult to treat. The NCC Firesticks Project is supporting Minyumai IPA in managing this weed through the establishment of an ongoing trial to determine the optimum method of removal and to trigger regeneration of the properties native vegetation. The trials involve two treatments applied to a previously cleared open paddock: spray and burn followed by spot spraying- and spraying only. The trials in the open paddock will also include native seed collection for direct seeding of the treatment areas and the raising of tube stock for planting. The weather was kind enough to provide an opportunity for the rangers to demonstrate a number of prescribed burns on the treatment plots.
Treatment of up to 12 ha of Setaria-dominated country (both regrowth and cleared areas) is being funded collaboratively by NCC Firesticks, the Federal Government’s Indigenous Protected Area Program and the NSW government’s Environmental Trust (the latter over a 3 year period). This trial is a significant part of Minyumai’s fire management strategy and knowledge gained through this work should enable the Minyumai Team to manage Setaria effectively using fire and also help prevent severe wildfires by reducing the fuel hazard this grass creates.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney where I was taught to fear fire and to see whats happening here at Minyumai its not something to fear but something to embrace, so important not only for Aboriginal people to connect with their culture but a way for us to connect with and learn from Aboriginal culture and connect with our country to generate a shared understanding” Sam Lee (Undergraduate Student Forestry).
One of the monitoring plots is located in a swamp sclerophyll woodland (canopy dominated by Swamp Mahogany Eucalyptus robusta-Scribly Gum E. signata) in the north-east of the IPA. Although an unplanned, hot fire, as opposed to the planned cool, mosaic burn proposed to be applied to Plot A (two years after the collection of baseline fauna data), the responses of the target fauna groups to this hot fire provide an interesting pattern.
To end the day on an inspiring and positive note the students visited Julie-Ann Cowards property Brandy Arm which has an in-perpetuity conservation covenant under the authority of the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW. Julie’s long-term vision is to restore this coastal floodplain area to conserve the endangered ecological communities of casuarinas, commonly known as she-oaks, and melaleucas (paperbarks) and the freshwater wetlands. Tein McDonald a well-known local bush regeneration expert put together a management plan for the property which was then implemented with the assistance of the Minyumai Rangers.
After a number of years of management through using a combination of fire and targeted spraying Brandy Arm is a fantastic example of how ecological systems can return from the local seed-bank following the removal of a mono-culture of pasture grass (Setaria). The property now serves as great aspiration to the Minyumai rangers for recovering many more hectares of swamp forest and wetlands on the IPA.
Many thanks to the Minyumai IPA Rangers and Julie-Anne for being such great hosts on the day.
Alert: Firesticks Presents @ Bushfire Conference 2016 in Brisbane this month.
Daniel Gomes (Minyumai IPA Coordinator) will be presenting the current results of their project entitled: Minyumai Rangers use fire and burning to convert a long-grazed and weed dominated clearing back into coastal forested wetland vegetation.
David Milledge the Firesticks Fauna Ecologist will be presenting results from the long-term monitoring over the last 4 years entitled: Preliminary results from monitoring the responses of vertebrate groups to applying contemporary indigenous burning practices in northern NSW IPAs.
Michelle McKemey (PhD student supported by Firesticks) and Lesley Patterson (Senior Ranger Wattleridge IPA) will be presenting collaborative research developing a seasonal calendar for the IPA entitled: Winba=Fire: Developing a fire & seasons calendar for Wattleridge IPA.
The Firesticks Project is currently funded until June 2017.