In the time of first settlement, much of our land, especially around the central QLD coastal region was open “Savannah land”. Broad plains of predominantly blady and spear grass, with a few large eucalypts sparsely dotted about. How do I know this? The records of early explorers and settlers clearly state this as do many of our place names – bald hills, whatever downs and plains.
Fires in this sort of grassland would rarely reach much more than 3 to 4 metres in height. Arborial animals would have been quite safe in the tops of the large bluegums many metres high. The sparse nature of the trees allowed growth to lofty heights and prevented fires getting into the treetops and spreading.
Fast forward to today. We have incredibly densely treed areas with very few reaching any great stature. This density prevents trees reaching any great size, as any gardener can tell you in an oversown garden. During a wet season there is enough water to support this massive vegetation load as well as grasses. Once the dry comes the dying starts. A mature eucalypt uses about 200 litres of water a day – okay in the boom time of the wet season but problematic in the dry. First to die is the grass. As it dies so too do the grazing animals, native and introduced, unless they can access green grass on more open country. As the moisture level sinks further down past the depth of the roots smaller trees start to die off, and so on until eventually even the bigger trees start to suffer and brown off. Add to this pests such as lantana. Happy to grow as a bush in open country, in this environment it becomes a climber seeking the light. Unburnable in wet times, it too dries off to tinder in the dry.
Thus we have a massive dead or dying veg load. We have a tiered dead or dying vegetation structure. We have few larger trees, and even those are closely packed and not of the height seen many years ago.
Then we add fire. A landscape dessicated by the overwhelming demand for water by a massive and abnormal tree load, with a fire ladder to the lowered canopy provided by the tiering effect and pest species results in the crowning blazes not seen before. Arborial native animals are doomed they cannot climb to the heights of yesteryear and even if they could it would do no good as the fires in this environment can be 15 to 20 metres high. Thus we lose all that those in the cities professed to save by locking up country, restricting thinning and other management practices. Those practices may well have resulted in a few natives being killed, but not the wholesale genocide we are seeing.
The whole cycle later repeats but it is worse each time. Damaged larger trees seed and send shoots from their roots resulting in suckers, “as thick as hairs on a cats back”.
The grass fires of old did not challenge the larger old trees in this way thus the overcompensated survival response was not as great. This WILL continue to get worse unless there as a change. Walk through any bushland – if you can weave through the suckers and climb through the lantana and suchlike – and see how many native animals you see. Very few I warrant and those will be on the edges where they can shelter but can access feed in the open areas – farmers grazing land.
You cannot farm or manage land from behind a desk in Brisbane with your strategies formulated in the trendy coffee shops of vegan central.
We do not allow urban hipsters to tell pilots how planes show be flown, or how surgeons should do surgery. Why then do we take so little notice of farmers and landholders that have intimate knowledge of the land, its plant and animals, and a hell of a lot to lose if it all goes to crap. When was the last time people of the regions told a desk jockey how he/she should commute to work, or what pen or keyboard to use, or what temp to run the aircon at. Please give us the right to care for our land, to make a living, and protect ourselves as only we truly know how.
By Marty Bella