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28 November, 2020

Learning from a natural disaster

A fire that burnt through world-heritage rainforest has made the Wet Tropics a barometer for climate change and a testing ground for rainforest recovery practices.

Terrain NRM’s Michael Morta and Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s Damon Sydes at the revegetation site at the entrance to Japoon National Park

Rainforest fires are unusual – so the forest near Silkwood has become a learning area for botanists, researchers and natural resource management specialists who want to be prepared for a hotter, less predictable future.

Terrain NRM is working with the Cassowary Coast Regional Council on a revegetation and weed control project in council reserve bordering Japoon National Park, where the wildfire moved up a ridge and continued burning for 10 days in late 2018.

Terrain’s Tony O’Malley said some areas had been taken over by invasive weeds, which could potentially threaten rainforest recovery.

“We are funding the council to replace fire-promoting weeds with fire-retarding rainforest trees at the entrance to the park,’’ Mr O’Malley said.  “The goal is to strengthen the park’s resilience to fire and weed invasions.”

The two organisations are also monitoring the rainforest’s regrowth by surveying sites for the next four years as part of the project.

Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s Damon Sydes said guinea grass, Siam weed, lantana and giant bramble had prospered in the five-hectare reserve since the fire.

“We began by selective spraying right across the reserve in early 2020 and then planting native rainforest trees, from Council and Queensland Parks and Wildlife stocks, in strips bordering Nyleta Rd,’’ he said.

“The trees are growing well and there’s a bit of a seed bank from the forest that’s still there so there has been natural regeneration too.  This is an experiment to see if we can accelerate the rainforest’s self-repair.”

Mr O’Malley said innovative weed control methods were being used.

“We want to maximise natural recovery of native plants so it’s light, selective spraying to knock weeds back without impacting native seedlings underneath,’’ he said. 

“Unmanaged fires could potentially change species composition and make the whole system more vulnerable to wildfires. We are hoping this project will be a model for fire recovery in tropical rainforests.”

The work is part of Terrain NRM’s ‘Native Vegetation – Many Hands Make Light Work’ project, funded by the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program. It is improving the resilience of big patches of native vegetation in partnership with local councils. Projects have included revegetation and weed control work at South Cedar Creek in the Ravenshoe area and the removal of hiptage, an invasive weed, near Mossman National Park.

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