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Challenging the concept of Aboriginal mosaic fire practices in the Lake Eyre Basin

Kimber, R. G., Friedel, M. H.
The Rangeland journal 2015 v.37 no.6 pp. 623-630
basins, burning, deserts, feral animals, fire hazard, fires, fuel loading, indigenous peoples, issues and policy, lakes, land management, landscapes, species diversity, vegetation, Australia
Mosaic burning is the deliberate creation of a mosaic of patches representing different fire histories. It is often recommended for management of Australia’s natural landscapes, on the assumption that it enhances biodiversity and reduces fire hazard through increased spatial and temporal diversity of fuel loads and species composition. It is also suggested that such fire practices were used throughout Australia by traditionally living Aboriginal people. Although the creation of a patchwork of different fire histories may be an effective management tool in modern land management, the evidence for universal mosaic burning before European settlement deserves scrutiny. The records of explorers, early settlers and anthropologists relating to a large portion of the Lake Eyre Basin, particularly the Channel country and the Simpson Desert region, were examined. It is concluded that extensive gaps in the records of smokes and large fires are important and meaningful, and do not represent a failure to record fires. The case for universal mosaic burning in the region is not supported by the evidence although mosaic burning did occur in specific circumstances. Fire practices were shaped by complex and interacting factors including the vegetation and terrain type, for example the occurrence of spinifex-dominated sandhills or stony deserts; seasonal conditions and the presence or not of adequate fuel loads; how readily Aboriginal people could access country and their reasons for using or not using fire; the stocking of the pastoral country and spread of feral animals; and government policies about fire.