by Barry Lyon, Cape York NRM

Fire is undoubtedly one of the most important factors influencing the health of the country, economic viability, and the cultural values of Cape York.

Indigenous people have supported biodiversity with knowledge-based fires for thousands of years, but wild fires can be very damaging.

Wild fires mean that ecosystems are injured and may be significantly changed, graziers lose pasture and stock, and erosion and sediment run-off can badly affect even the Great Barrier Reef. People managing their property as part of a fire carbon farming project also suffer significant economic loss.

Recently there has been a resurgence in traditional burning practices on Cape York.

This, along with the management of fire savvy graziers, Rangers, and other land managers, has seen big improvements in ecologically sound fire management, typically patchy in nature.

The downside has been the continuation and probable increase in wildfires lit by arsonists. Because of its remoteness and sparse population, Cape York people have a very limited capacity to contain such fires. During a recent wildfire event in southern Queensland, it was telling that, even with 20 fire crews and aircraft attending, the fire still posed huge problems.

On many Cape York properties, sometimes just two or three people and limited equipment are available to deal with inevitably very large fires.

Cape York NRM is supporting improved fire management across the Cape with a range of initiatives. One of these is the development of ‘Fire Management Clusters’ of neighbouring properties. The approach is that managers from cluster properties would meet and work collaboratively in reviewing fire histories and issues; planning and burning operations; and response to wildfires. Sharing of knowledge, and operating a communications network for wild fire alerts and surveillance for arsonists, are also key roles of the clusters. 

Funding from the National Landcare Programme, Queensland Regional Natural Resource Management Investment Program, and The Nature Conservancy is enabling this important work.