Traditional Aboriginal fire practices brought to State Forest burn

Traditional low-intensity burning practices will be used in a two-week hazard reduction burn starting this week in Wedding Bells State Forest north of Woolgoolga to reduce bushfire risk and improve access to country for cultural purposes.

Forestry Corporation of NSW planned the burn in consultation with the Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) and local Elders groups. The burn will be carried out together with the local Aboriginal community, LALC’s Darrunda Wajaarr Green Team and Forestry Corporation firefighters.

Forestry Corporation’s Aboriginal Partnerships Team Leader John Shipp said the burn would not only reduce bushfire risk for the local community, but it would also improve ease of movement through country for cultural purposes and restore a traditional forest structure.

“We regularly carry out hazard reduction burns in local State forests to reduce bushfire risk, but we are hoping that by working with local Aboriginal communities we can fulfil both traditional and contemporary obligations to care for country,” Mr Shipp said.

“This burn will reduce fuel levels on the forest floor, but it will much more closely reflect the frequent burning that has been traditionally carried out over the landscape for generations.

“Regular cool burns have been used for centuries, so forests traditionally had a more open understorey and denser canopy – the reverse of what we see today. Reinstating traditional burning practices will open up country for cultural purposes and restore that traditional forest structure.

“We have been consulting closely with members of the Aboriginal community throughout the planning and there will be community representatives involved in the burning as both participants and observers. We hope this will be the start of a closer partnership with the local community.”

Garby Elder Tony Dootson said that this burn was important for teaching the different methods between today’s and yesterday’s societies of looking after country and will hopefully bring a better outcome to managing the bush using traditional and European ways.

“It’s important that we all work together to ensure that the bush is maintained as it was in the past, using fire to look after country and the animals. When wildfire comes through you can see firsthand the impact that it has on our animals,” Mr Dootson said.

Forestry Corporation’s Forest Protection Manager Karel Zejbrlik said hazard reduction burns were one of the best and safest ways to reduce fire hazard but reminded people to be aware of smoke and stay away from burning or recently burnt areas.

“This hazard reduction burn will remove flammable material from the forest floor and significantly reduce the risk of a bushfire taking hold in the warmer months and threatening nearby homes,” Mr Zejbrlik said.

“There’s only a narrow window of opportunity to safely complete planned burns, when it’s neither too hot and dry nor too cool and damp and the wind is not too strong.

“While we pick the best conditions, unfortunately smoke is unavoidable, so we’re asking motorists along Sherwood Creek Road to be aware of potential smoke across the road and drive to the conditions.

“We also advise people to stay out of the forest until the fire has been fully extinguished and avoid entering recently-burnt areas in the weeks following the burn for safety reasons.

“We apologise for any inconvenience and thank the community for their understanding during this important burn. Information and updates will be available on the Rural Fire Service’s Fires Near Me website and app throughout the burn.”

Media contact: Elizabeth Fowler 9407 4265/ 0408 779 903