An indigenous burn practitioner has urged fire policy makers to “get the bush between their toes” and cut red tape as his people begin to assess the damage wrought to their country over the summer.
Kelvin Johnson, the senior land management officer with the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, on Wednesday began the task of inspecting the damage after the Three Mile Fire ripped through the region in December.
He was allowed to return to the bush in Kulnura, west of Wyong on the NSW Central Coast, for the first time and while there was widespread devastation, he said the area had fared better than others.
Already trees are beginning the process of renewal and some are going into “defence mode” and throwing up new shoots and saplings.
Others had been completely decimated and some that were 400 years old had been hollowed out.
“We’ve probably lost 70 per cent of the biodiversity of the flora,” Mr Johnson said.
He estimates it will take 18 to 24 months for the land to recover.
But he says it’s a disaster which “people in certain circles saw coming, the writing was on the wall.”
“This event needed to happen to cleanse the bush because it was so sick out there,” he said.
“Everything was already sick. You couldn’t walk 10m in some spots, (the fuel load) was that thick.”
Mr Johnson joined the NSW Rural Fire Brigade in 1997 but left in 2003 and became a cultural burn practitioner.
He subscribes to the belief that the land can be managed using indigenous burning and mitigation techniques.
“That’s where science meets cultural burning,” he said.
“I now focus solely on putting the right fire on country.”
Cultural burning involves using the local indigenous knowledge of flora and fauna and back-burning with a series of low-impact fires in a patchwork, mosaic pattern designed to help the land regenerate.
While he understands the need for environmental and backburning regulation, he says current red tape is too stringent.
“They’ll stop you burning because of an orchard or a tree or a plant on a property,” he said.
“But then they do nothing about it – you can’t mitigate the risk. When a wildfire comes through, it doesn’t discriminate. It takes everything out.”
And he urged policymakers to become better attuned to the country.
“The environmental assessment process that all people have to abide by, those safeguards need to be there, but they need to understand there needs to be another way,” he said.
“Don’t just look at a book that you studied at university. Get out into the bush, feel the bush, they need to get the bush between their toes, smells the smells, listen to the sounds. Connect to that bush.
“That will give you a better understanding of what that bush needs. Not a piece of paper, not a university degree.”
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