An urgent call to improve fire regimes and tackle arson on Cape York was made at the 2022 North Australia Savanna Fire Forum this week, where it was revealed that over 260,000 hectares on Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary have been impacted by arson during the late dry season (September–December) since 2014.
Sally Gray, Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Assistant Sanctuary Manager at Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary in Far North Queensland, told government officials and conservation groups that regional collaboration is key to reducing the impacts of unplanned fires that threaten the Cape’s unique ecosystems, critical habitats and local wildlife including threatened species such as the Red Goshawk.
At Piccaninny Plains, AWC has invested over a decade in fire management planning which is delivered across the sanctuary. Prescribed burning often takes place as soon as country can carry fire around mid-May and will run until early dry season. This prescribed burning limits the spread of intense late-season fires and protects patches of crucial old-growth vegetation and fire-sensitive habitats.
Gray proposed that the industry develop a regional plan that could reduce the risk of unplanned fires, including chopper sharing for faster response times, increased reporting to the police and Rural Fire Service, and work closely with local media to raise awareness of arson attacks as they occur.
“In the Cape, unplanned fire is a very complicated business,” Gray explained. “We have huge amounts of biomass material unlike many other regions and we have a tight window to control burns before they reach critical habitat and threatened species. Species impacted by these burns can include the Red Goshawk, Australia’s rarest bird of prey, which is fledging during the late dry season.”
“When we get to the fire season at the end of the year, fire danger is extreme. I hope that by working together, we can better manage and reduce the extent of destructive burns due to arson.”
Gray, who works alongside her partner and Sanctuary Manager Graham Woods to deal with unplanned fires and protect 160,000 hectares of ecologically diverse landscape at Piccaninny Plains, urged the community to vocalise the cause of unplanned fires during the late dry season and hold arsonists accountable for their behaviour.
“We need to stop normalising these unplanned fires in the region because the truth is, it’s not normal and by turning a blind eye we’re giving arsonists a free pass to continue carrying out illegal activity.”
AWC carries out Australia’s largest non-government prescribed burning program which has reduced destructive wildfire by 50% across our northern sanctuaries. The extent of wildfire has been reduced by 44% on Mount Zero-Taravale Wildlife Sanctuary, 36% on Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary, 64% on Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary, 66% on Pungalina-Seven Emu Wildlife Sanctuary, and an incredible 90% on Wongalara Wildlife Sanctuary.
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