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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 22(1) June - August 2013, p 4-6

Translating science into practice for improved fire management and biodiversity conservation in South East Queensland

Craig Welden and Dr Samantha Lloyd
South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, Brisbane, Qld.
Email: cwelden@seqcatchments.com.au or slloyd@seqcatchments.com.au

Recipient of the 2011/2012 South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium Student Research Grant, Diana Virkki of Griffith University. Photo Courtesy of Diana Virkki. Photographer: Amanda Dawson

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Staff undertaking a hazard reduction burn along a roadside at Samford (August 2012).
Photo: D. Gilmour

The South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium (SEQFBC) was established in 1998 and is a network of land managers and stakeholders aimed at providing a coordinated response and best-practice recommendations for fire management, fire ecology and biodiversity conservation in South East Queensland (SEQ) through education, community engagement, applied research and representation.

The key aims of the SEQFBC are:

  • Education and engagement - assisting land managers and private land holders with practical information on fire management and biodiversity conservation
  • Applied research - fire ecology research investigating knowledge gaps in biodiversity and fire management
  • Representation and response - provision of coordinated responses to matters of significant fire management and fire ecology importance (e.g. legislative amendments and government inquires).

The SEQFBC is currently hosted by SEQ Catchments, the Natural Resource Management body for SEQ and is generously supported by: all of the SEQ local governments; Powerlink Queensland; Queensland Fire and Rescue Service; the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing; and SEQ Catchments. This partnership provides excellent opportunities for ongoing engagement with private landholders, public land managers and universities.

The SEQFBC currently employs two part time officers (working a total of six days per week) and is assisted by a group of enthusiastic volunteers on the Steering Committee, Education and Research Working Groups.

Education and engagement

The SEQFBC assists public land managers and private land owners with practical information on fire management and biodiversity conservation via workshops, talks, forums, training, newsletters and provision of education materials. A regular compilation of news, notification of research papers and all things relating to fire and biodiversity is sent via the popular SEQFBC e-news.

The SEQFBC website (www.fireandbiodiversity.org.au) provides access to SEQFBC fact sheets, e.g. protected vegetation and fire management (the fact sheet series is currently under review). Comprehensive manuals are also available for free download on the website, including the Fire and Biodiversity Monitoring Manual, Fire Management Operational Manual and Individual Property Fire Management Planning Kit (currently under review an updated version will be released this year). The revision of SEQFBC education material is overseen by the Education Working Group (EWG). The EWG is made up of the SEQFBC Manager and Coordinator and nine volunteers from six organisations and meets three-four times a year to review and contribute to work within the SEQFBC education aim.

The most popular SEQFBC service is the one day Individual Property Fire Management Planning Workshops. In the 2011/2012 financial year, SEQFBC delivered 13 workshops for seven councils, attracting over 260 participants. The workshop is aimed at private landowners. Participants are led through the development of a fire management plan and provided with relevant property level mapping. Participants meet their local Rural Fire Service (RFS), local government and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) officers, building invaluable relationships. An amended version of this workshop is also provided to local governments, whereby officers gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the appropriate use of fire in the landscape.

The biannual SEQFBC forums are extremely popular and frequently attract over 100 attendees. Forums are held in venues around SEQ and generally focus on providing a range of speakers on fire ecology research, fire management projects (from both public and private land), fire policy and legislation changes/updates and provide an efficient means of informing the membership of current work priorities and projects. The most recent forum was an enormous success, held on 1 May at Beewah Community Hall (Sunshine Coast) and the theme was “Linking Traditional Owner and Western Fire Management”. The forum was generously sponsored by Sunshine Coast Regional Council, attracted over 90 attendees and featured Gubbi Gubbi Elder, Nurdon Serico, the Bunya Murri Rangers and the NSW Nature Conservation Council Firesticks project.

The SEQFBC also provides essential training opportunities for member organisations. Recent training includes the popular Fuel Hazard Assessment one day workshop and fire weather training. The understanding of fuels and fire weather are very important tools for land managers and these training sessions are often oversubscribed.

Applied research

A key function of the SEQFBC is to participate and collaborate with researchers both in SEQ and across Australia. A primary way in which this is done is through the coordination of the SEQFBC Research Working Group (RWG). The RWG meets twice a year and is made up of the SEQFBC Manager and Coordinator and 24 volunteers from 17 organisations. The RWG provides land managers, researchers, students and academics with up to date information on fire ecology research and provides a forum to meet and share information and collaborate on projects. The RWG also assists in the production and review of relevant SEQFBC publications (e.g. fact sheets) and will be contributing to the new SEQFBC Fire Research newsletter, due out later this year.

The SEQFBC provides an annual Research Student Grant that aims to assist Honours or PhD students in undertaking vital fire ecology research within the SEQ region. This program began in the 2011/2012 financial year and was awarded to Diana Virkki from Griffith University, who is studying the relationship between fire mosaics and reptile communities in southeast Queensland.

Currently, the SEQFBC, in partnership with the NSW Nature Conservation Council (lead agency) and SEQ Catchments, is undertaking an on-ground project focussed on protecting threatened species habitat in the Border Ranges through the implementation of fire infrastructure, weed management and improved fire management. The project is working with landholders in the region to improve habitat for the endangered Eastern Bristle Bird (Dasyornis brachypterus), Hastings River Mouse (Pseudomys oralis) and Eastern Chestnut Mouse (Pseudomys gracilicaudatus). Funding was successfully sought via Caring for our Country and is near completion. Further information on this project can be found in the article on the Northern Rivers Fire and Biodiversity Consortium.

Representation and response

The SEQFBC provides a coordinated response to matters of regional, state and national fire management and fire ecology importance. As such, in the past year the SEQFBC have provided formal submissions to the Queensland RFS review, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 nomination to list the Noisy Miner as a key threatening process for other native woodland birds and the review of the State Planning Policy (SPP 1/03) on Mitigating the Adverse Impacts of Flood, Bushfire and Landslide.

In 2012, in response to community concern and lack of an identified process, SEQ Catchments asked the SEQFBC to manage a project on the issue of fuel load management on roadside reserves. The aim was to identify a process by which landholders could apply to undertake hazard reduction burns on land adjoining their property, without prohibitive costs, insurance or biodiversity risk. After extensive consultation with stakeholders two models where identified:

  • the South Burnett Regional Council Model (whereby landholders apply to conduct roadside burns whilst covered by council insurance)
  • the Coordinated Agency Model (comprising a cooperative approach from Toowoomba Regional Council, Queensland Fire and Rescue Service, Department of Transport and Main Roads and QPWS).

The SEQFBC concluded that the Coordinated Agency Model offered the greatest potential for addressing the issue whilst minimising insurance risk. The project has been a great success and one council is currently finalising arrangements for the implementation of the Coordinated Agency Model in its area.

For further information please visit the SEQFBC website: www.fireandbiodiversity.org.au.