People, fire, forest and water in Wungong: the landscape ecology of a West Australian water catchment
MetadataShow full item record
Bushfire is, in terms of human lives lost, property destroyed, and damage to natural systems, by far the most urgent environmental problem in Australia. This thesis tries to answer a number of questions about bushfire behaviour, history, effects, and management, in the Wungong Catchment of Western Australia. It does so by an overtly cross-disciplinary approach, involving a mixture of the three main streams of human knowledge, namely the humanities, natural science, and social science.First, I offer a literature review of several hundred books and papers drawn from the three main streams of knowledge mentioned above. The review includes some discussion of ‘bushfire epistemology’, a currently vague and neglected matter.The concept of ‘place’ is important to humans, so I then give a straightforward geographical description of Wungong Catchment, with some mention of the history of bushfire. To describe the vegetation, I use inductive statistics, and a method developed by me from the ideas of Delaunay (1929) and Dirichlet (1850). Given that there are hundreds of plant species within the catchment, I use a landscape approach, and only sketch the main tree species, and two iconic plants, the balga and the djiridji, both of which are important to the original custodians of the catchment, the Nyoongar people. There is discussion of other people’s research into the effect of bushfire on seed banks, and the flowering intervals of some plants of the jarrah forest.To see if Western Australia is anomalous, or fits into the worldwide pattern of humans using fire as a landscape management tool, I then examine some records of bushfire in other lands, including Africa, Madagascar, India, and Europe. The thesis then looks at the history of fire in the jarrah forest of Western Australia, based on observations by early European explorers and settlers from 1826 onward, the views of various foresters, and some opinions of current Nyoongar Elders.Using a mixture of natural science, applied mathematics, and archaeology, I give the results of cleaning the stems of those ancient plants called grasstrees, or balga (Xanthorrhoea spp.). These carry the marks of former bushfires, stretching back to 1750. They confirm historical reports of frequent fire in the jarrah forest, at 2-4 year intervals, and a recent decline in fire frequency. This contradicts the view, held by some, that European arrival increased the frequency of fire.As support for the balga findings, I present a simple mathematical model of self-organization in bushfire mosaics. It shows how lengthy bushfire exclusion can lead to disastrous situations, in which large areas of landscape become flammable and unstable. It shows how frequent, patchy burning can maintain a stable bushfire mosaic, with mild, beneficial fires. In the next chapter, I offer mathematical suggestions on how current unstable mosaics can be restabilized, by careful reintroduction of such burning.In dry, south-western Australia, water supply is an important topic, and a better understanding of the hydrological effects of bushfire may help with both bushfire and water management. I draw upon the natural science of forest hydrology, and the effects of fire in catchments. The evidence comes not only from Australia, but also from the United States, and South Africa.Turning to social science, I introduce Professor Peter Checkland’s ‘Soft Systems Methodology’, and suggest how it could be applied in resolving complicated conflict about bushfire management. I finish in legal style, with a summing up, and a verdict on the use of bushfire as a land management tool in Wungong Catchment, and possibly in other flammable landscapes.
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.
Assessing long-term change in rangeland ecological health using the Western Australian rangeland monitoring systemRussell, Peter John (2007)The rangelands or semi-arid and arid regions of Western Australia occupy about 87 percent of the land area. Pastoral grazing of managed livestock, mainly sheep and cattle, occurs over much of this area, with an increasing ...
Korczynskyj, Dylan (2002)Australian grasstrees are a long-lived group of arborescent, monocotyledonous plants that persist in fire-prone landscapes. Renowned for their capacity to survive fire, and flower soon after, these species have long ...
Lamont, Byron; Enright, Neal; Witkowski, E.; Groeneveld, J. (2007)We have studied the ecology and conservation requirements of Banksia species in the species-rich sandplains of south-western Australia for 25 years. Loss of habitat through land-clearing has had the greatest impact on ...