Aboriginal fire use in Australian tropical savannas: Ecological effects and management lessons

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Abstract

Aboriginal people share a consistent landscape-burning practice across the vast Northern Australian savanna region. The practice is spatially and seasonally diverse and has been widely applied to manage important animal and plant resources and to bring about health y and amenable landscape states. The burning practices of

Aboriginal people and their associated knowledge systems provide valuable alternative s to Western scientific paradigms. Aboriginal people have experienced major demographic and cultural change in the post-colonial period, including the loss of access and ownership of land. Unmanaged wildfires now dominate contemporary fire regimes. with Aboriginal burning largely restricted to some Aboriginal lands. Scientific studies have linked recent changes in fire regime to the decline of key taxa, such as granivorous birds, small-sized to medium-sized mammals and fire-sensitive vegetation types.

Aboriginal people remain important land managers in the savannas; representing a large proportion of the rural population, with large land holdings. and with influential land rights. Fire management continues on some Aboriginal lands and is being increasingly implemented by formal Aboriginal natural resource management agencies. The maintenance of indigenous ecological knowledge is also the focus of some indigenous-owned programs. Global climate change presents a new challenge to Aboriginal land managers but also presents opportunities for participation in the emerging carbon economy.