Before and after the fire: At left, an image of Ormiston Gorge in the new park management plan.
At right: The same area last Sunday.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
It took the government 28 hours and 49 minutes to tell us where we can find the current West MacDonnells management plan but when they did, it was well worth a read.
In fact it was positively prophetic.
Under the heading “Managing threats” it says: “Large wildfires are the greatest threat to the Park.
“There have been two major wildfire events in the past 20 years that may have been very damaging to the park’s wildlife.
“Today, park staff work together with Traditional Owners, combining traditional and scientific fire management practices.
“Prescribed burning plays an important role and is used to keep ecosystems healthy, aid traditional hunting and protect the country from damaging hot wildfire, which can occur after big rainfall years due to increased fuel loads.
“Buffel grass is a major threat, mainly through increased fire frequency and intensity from greater fuel loads,” says the plan.
“The extent of infestation and ecological impact varies throughout the Park.The highest concentrations occur along watercourses and areas frequented by visitors, feral animals and stock.
“Couch grass is also a significant threat that increases fuel loads in most river systems.”
The section within the plan dealing with fire is a slim 434 words and couched in rather general language, drawing on traditional owner input: “Fire is important to manage country. We might say ok to burn that area, ‘cause we need fresh grass to grow.”
It’s a long shot from the prescriptive document from which we quoted in our report yesterday, the West MacDonnell (Tyurretye) National Park Draft Joint Management Plan 2011 – yes, 2011, setting out what should be done to prevent catastrophic fires.
Significantly, the revised Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park Joint Management Plan (the change from Tyurretye to Tjoritja was at the request of traditional owners, says a government spokeswoman) was tabled in the NT Legislative Assembly in June 2018.
It came into operation on October 24 last year and was gazetted on November 7.
That, of course was months after the cool weather when the precautionary burning should have been done to prevent or scale down the massive destruction last month.
The section dealing with fire in the new plan is spending much time on introduced animals, including “cattle, horses, camels, donkeys, cats, foxes, rabbits and European bees” causing “extensive environmental impacts” and “detract from visitor impressions of the Park and its management” entering “through breaches in boundary fences.
“It is imperative that the Park’s neighbours are included in land management programs,” says the plan.
“Involving Traditional Owners and applying their ecological knowledge is central to this Strategy and its implementation.”