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Indigenous burning is not easily replaced or imitated

Indigenous fire management | The Nature Conservancy Australia

Photo from the Nature Conservancy Australia.

Cultural fire knowledge needs to be supported and preserved where it still exists because the ecological and cultural benefits of Indigenous fire practices are not easily replaced or imitated. My colleagues from the University of Tasmania and I make this argument in a summary of our research* in Arnhem Land in a piece for The Conversation.

* You can find an open access version of our research published in Scientific Reports here:

Recent papers (June 2022)

It has been a productive summer so far as collaborations over the past couple of years have yielded several papers. With David Bowman and colleagues, I helped frame an exciting study about the decline of a fire sensitive conifer in the highly flammable North Australia savannas. This paradox (a fire sensitive tree persisting in a landscape with lots of fire) can be explained by the high levels of pyrodiversity created by Aboriginal patch burning. Colonialism arrived to Arnhem Land relatively late but included population displacement (and the removal of Aboriginal fire management) and more recently superimposed institutionalized fire management that has driven this loss of ecological value.

With Grant Snitker and others, fire archaeologists of all stripes, we make the case that archaeologists and fire scientists should be working together to better understand the long, intertwined histories of people and fire.

With Tom Swetnam and Matt Liebmann, I reexamined a number of tree-ring and geoarchaeological fire studies across the Southwest US to look at the consequences of Indigenous population removal and other processes of colonialism on Southwest fire regimes.

Bowman, David M.J.S., Grant J. Williamson, Fay H. Johnston, Clarence J.W. Bowman, Brett P. Murphy, Christopher I. Roos, Clay Trauernicht, Joshua Rostron, and Lynda D. Prior
2022    Population Collapse of a Gondwanan Conifer Follows the Loss of Indigenous Fire Regimes in a Northern Australian Savanna. Scientific Reports  12:9081. [PDF] [LINK].

Roos, Christopher I., Thomas W. Swetnam, and Matthew J. Liebmann
2022    Rebound of Fire Regimes in Southwest US Forests and Woodlands, 1200-1900 CE. In Questioning Rebound: People and Environmental Change in Protohistoric and Early Historic Americas (ed.  E. Jones and J. Fisher), pp. 54-65. University of Utah Press. [PDF].

Snitker, Grant, Christopher I. Roos, Alan P. Sullivan III, S. Yoshi Maezumi, Douglas W. Bird, Michael R. Coughlan, Kelly M. Derr, Linn Gassaway, Anna Klimaszewski-Patterson, Rachel A. Loehman
2022    A Collaborative Agenda for Archaeology and Fire Science. Nature Ecology & Evolution  6:835-839. [PDF] [LINK].

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