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Fire Ecology, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 1

A Satellite Analysis of Contrasting Fire Patterns in Aboriginal- and Euro-Australian Lands in Tropical North Australia
Authors: Aaron M. Petty and David M.J.S. Bowman
Pages: 32-47
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0301032


We use satellite imagery to compare and contrast fire patterns across a repeating mosaic of vegetation types occurring within the tropical savanna of the Northern Territory, Australia. Our study area included different land management settings that encapsulate three contrasting styles of management that have developed following European settlement in northern Australia:

  • Decentralized fire management carried out by small Aboriginal communities widely dispersed across a large landscape.
  • Centralized fire management carried out by park rangers and military land managers who implement a fire management plan based on a paradigm of hazard reduction burning.
  • Pastoral properties with a specific management objective of improving cattle yield by protecting and improving pasture with fire.

The lowland eucalypt savannas were the most burnt of any vegetation type, but within eucalypt savannas there were subtle differences in fire frequency. The highest fire frequencies were recorded in national park and military lands, intermediate frequencies on Aboriginal lands, and the lowest fire frequencies on pastoral properties. Aboriginal lands had an even distribution of fire throughout the dry season in contrast to the marked bias towards early dry season landscape burning on all Euro-Australian controlled lands. These findings illustrate the impact of different management paradigms and cultural decisions about fire on physical fire patterns.

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