July 17th 2007
Smoking grass trees
The "Stick lease," a 1538m2 tract of land formerly associated with an oyster lease and noted for its superb grass trees, Xanthorrhoea johnstonii, near Magnetic Island's West Point, was the scene last week for an unusual NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) activity.
The land is under Department of Natural Resources and Water management and is currently being used cooperatively by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Wulgurukaba., Magnetic Island's Traditional Owners, who teamed up with staff from QPWS and other government agencies to conduct a controlled burn.
According to Wulgurukaba's Mr Michael Johnson, who is also a Magnetic Island based QPWS Officer, "Fire has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years to manage country. It's been very important for (government) agencies to come together, contribute and assist in this management."
The grass trees make dramatic sculptural shapes once burnt Pandanus is also fire resistant and makes a spectacular sight once alight
Although the grass trees are the most striking natural feature of the area the ground is covered in periwinkles and rattlepod weeds which have become very predominant. QPWS Ranger in Charge on Magnetic Island, Patrick Centurino, told Magnetic Times, "We are trying to open the country up a bit. Native grasses have retreated from West Point to Bolger Bay."
Patrick accepts the fact that the burning is not an exact tool and that there is much to learn about the complex relationship between fire and its diverse effects within particular ecological communities.
Prior to the burn, detailed surveys of all the plant species were conducted and follow-up assessments will help determine the effectiveness of the operation.
Patrick Centurino said, "There was only one native grass (plant) found in the whole area, a Cymbopogon species. It should be there with other grasses in the understory." he said.
"There isn't just one purpose to the fire. Most people might think it is for fuel reduction but here it is also to control weeds, keep the grass trees alive, help the acacias and the grass to come through. But there are so many variables," he says.
Speaking of the grass trees, Patrick told Magnetic Times, "Whilst burning is not essential for reproduction, plants which are burned produce more inflorescences than plants which are not burned and produce those earlier than unburnt ones.
"Grass trees are well suited to a burnt environment as the stem of the plant starts below the soil. This allows the plants to re-shoot after the fire even for small plants since little fire-heat penetrates the soil.
"So we can say that burning encourages growth of grass trees and favours grass tree habitat."
The area will be the site for follow-up weeding programs where the the periwinkles and rattlepods will be targetted."
The burn was followed by a bush oven cook-up afternoon tea to celebrate the cooperative approach and included staff from the Department of Natural Resources & Mines and Townsville City Council, Townsville at the camp area controlled by the Wulgurukaba neighbours, SES, West Point Rural Fire Brigade and Ambulance staff.
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