Cultural burning for threatened species habitat renewal

North Coast Local Land Services is working in collaboration with Traditional owner and Aboriginal community group, Githabul Rangers, to restore the habitat of the Endangered Northern population of Eastern Bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus).

Following decades of decline, this threatened bird species, which occupies open grassy forests near the NSW and QLD border, has only recently stabilised its numbers through coordinated habitat management efforts.

The re-introduction of ‘low intensity’ fire regimes every 3-6 years in a patch burning arrangement or landscape mosaic (typical of traditional cultural burns) is key to managing these Grassy Forests.

Jai Sleeman, Senior Land Services Officer with North Coast Local Land Services, said, “These ‘good fires’ temporarily remove ground layers by targeting and preventing the establishment of shrubby layers (including tree saplings).

“This enables the eventual regeneration of a grass dominated habitat over the longer term.”

The Eastern Bristlebird, is a largely ground dwelling bird that needs tussock forming grasses such as Poa labillardierei to provide cover so they can escape predators and provide a refuge for feeding, breeding and nesting.

Without routine fire these tussocks get overshaded by the enclosing canopy above and their growth also declines with the build-up and structural collapse of dead leaves that prevents new growth.

Jai continued, “Ultimately, there is a one-way succession movement towards a ‘closed’ wet forest structure without ‘good fire.’

“Closed wet sclerophyll forests also tend to have higher weed and thus higher hazardous fuel loads which increases the potential threat from wildfire - one of the greatest threats to wildlife and native plant diversity.”

Uncle Robert Boota from the Githabul Rangers said, “Our teams have been working on  best practice management of Grassy Forest to get the balance ‘right’ again and that means bringing back people and practices to this habitat that has adapted through cultural influences over millennia.

“Good fire and Aboriginal burning are not only an important cultural practice for connecting Traditional owners back to their country - it also fosters wellbeing by bringing community together for sharing knowledge.

“Good fire also helps stimulate important processes of nutrient cycling in forests and contributes to food webs.”

Within weeks after burns there is emergence of new grass growth and unusual bursts of colour on the ground from unique fire loving orange fungi such as Pyronema omphalodes.

These fungi send out a mycelium network that holds the soil and ash together to prevent erosion and provide an important food source to fauna such as the Vulnerable Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus).

If you are interested in learning more about open grassy forest management and the protection of habitat for endangered species such as the Eastern Bristlebird:

North Coast Local Land Services have launched a video outlining the Importance of Open Grassy Forests management and the Northern population of the Eastern Bristlebird.

The Border Ranges Richmond Valley Landcare Network also have ‘Good Fire’ and grassy forest management case studies available via their website.

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