The fire history of Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve 1984-2005

The fire history of Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve 1984-2005 News

DKCRC Research Report - Desert Fire: fire and regional land management in the arid landscapes of Australia

  • Author(s): Gabrys, K, Cowan, P, Duguid, A
  • Secondary Author(s): Edwards, GP, Allan, GE
  • Published: 2009
  • Publisher: Desert Knowledge CRC
  • Volume: 37

Abstract: Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve (‘the Reserve’) was established in 1984 and fire has been used as a management tool since that time, primarily to reduce the risk of wildfires, but also to enhance biodiversity. All previous fire plans, reports and paper maps for the Reserve have been reviewed. The Geographic Information System (GIS) data for the park have been checked and re-organised, and the perimeters of additional fires shown on paper maps have been digitised. No wildfire has occurred in the Reserve since 1984. It is possible that many of the spinifex-dominated parts of the Reserve were burnt by the large wildfires in the summer of 1975–76 after the exceptionally high rainfall in 1974–75; however, we could not confirm this. We speculate that prior to 1975, spinifex dominated parts of the park were burnt every few decades, either by wildfires or by deliberate human ignitions. The past use of fire by pastoralists is unknown. We also have no information on the use of fire by traditional Aboriginal owners of the area but assume that fire was used actively prior to the appropriation of the land for grazing cattle. Based on the prescribed burning reports and maps it would appear that active fire management has been restricted to three main periods: 1984, 1989–93 and 2001–05. However, it is likely that some prescribed fires were not mapped or recorded in the past. There has been more prescribed burning in parts of the park that are accessible by vehicle (spinifex sand plain and sand dune), but there has also been some burning in the rocky hills. The earlier periods of prescribed burning created both large and small patches, some of which have a strategic value for limiting potential wildfires. The recent burning (past five years) has focused on strategic burns, mostly relatively narrow linear burns, but also including extensive off-reserve burns adjacent to the boundary. Large parts of the Reserve have moderate to high fuel loads of spinifex grassland, mostly greater than 20 years old. Despite plans for strategic breaks around and within the Reserve, the implementation of these burns is far from complete. Therefore there is still a strong possibility that large parts of the Reserve could be burnt in a single wildfire, whether the ignition is inside or outside the Reserve boundary and whether started by lightning, by accident or by deliberate human ignition. The Reserve was not affected by the extensive wildfires of 2002, which did not come close to the boundary and therefore did not test the fire breaks that had been established recently along sections of the boundary. This review of fire history provides some useful insight into how much fire management can be achieved with the current staffing levels and training processes. Records from this and other reserves show that it is extremely difficult to implement an extensive network of burnt fire breaks. Work is now required to produce a fire management strategy that will guide fire management on the Reserve over the next decade, based on new resource information and ecological understanding. Ongoing management should involve a combination of strategic burnt breaks and extensive patch burning, and fire mapping and record keeping should be given a higher priority than in the past.

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