Tasmania turns to traditional methods for bushfire management

By Shannon Jenkins

January 15, 2020

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Tasmania will use traditional bushfire-management techniques such as cultural burning to better prepare for the future, according to outgoing Premier Will Hodgman.

The state government on Monday announced it would establish three new specialist Aboriginal positions within the Parks and Wildlife Service to “strengthen our understanding of and practice in land management and cultural burning methods, and the impact of fire on Aboriginal heritage”.

The government said it would also invite Aboriginal representation on the Statewide Fuel Reduction Steering Committee to provide expert advice on fire management practices and to further assist agencies to learn from and utilise traditional management techniques.

A pilot grants program would be established with $100,000 available to support state Aboriginal communities to engage in cultural burning practices within their local area.

The Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chair Michael Mansell has called for the land to be returned to its traditional owners in response to the announcement.

“There’s no reason why Aboriginal expertise has to be channeled through a government department,” he told The Advocate.

“If the government, for example, returned the Crown lands in Tasmania that would employ 20 Aboriginal people directly to, not only look after the land, but encourage tourists and other visitors in a sustainable way to visit the land and understand its values.

“If they handed the land back we could directly employ those three people plus more people to work with the Tasmanian Fire Service and PWS and show them our history and knowledge and how to prevent these major fires.”

He said the initiative was “better late than never”, but noted the government should have consulted with the Aboriginal community first.

Cultural burning is cooler and slower than hazard reduction burning, and its size, direction and duration is controlled depending on knowledge from traditional custodians.

Hodgman said the decision intended to recognise the local Indigenous community’s “rich cultural and environmental understanding” of managing the land.

“Aboriginal cultural burning practices, undertaken for tens of thousands of years, have helped shape the Tasmanian landscape we know today,” he said in a statement.

“As our nation suffers from devastating bushfires, we should draw on the deep connection Tasmanian Aboriginals have with the land and share this knowledge in improved land management practices, to help reduce the impact of wildfires in our community.”

Hodgman announced his resignation on Tuesday, citing family reasons.

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