Indigenous knowledge & shackles of wilderness – Study

30 September 2021

IFA/AFG welcomes study on Indigenous knowledge and the shackles of wilderness

The professional association representing some 1,000 forest scientists, researchers and forest land managers in Australia has welcomed the paper Indigenous knowledge and the shackles of wilderness by Associate Professor and Wiradjuri man Michael-Shawn Fletcher.

The Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers President Bob Gordon said the paper provided an opportunity for solution focused dialogue regarding how we manage our forests, and highlighted the need to engage and work closely with Traditional Owners.

“The current approaches to management of Australia’s forests are not working – we need to re-think our philosophy of land management, conservation and how we do things, and papers such as Associate Professor Fletcher’s study of wilderness ideals provide a basis for valuable and informed discussion,” Mr Gordon said.

“The IFA/AFG is committed to empowering and working with Traditional Owners and pursuing two-way capacity building to actively and adaptively manage Country across all land tenures.

“The arrival of Europeans disrupted traditional land management practices and low impact mosaic burning regimes, which has led to significant challenges across landscapes, particularly in relation to fire management. Australian forests have been influenced for tens of thousands of years by aboriginal lore, care and management. These lands have been actively managed and as Associate Professor Fletcher and colleagues have highlighted, the concept of having no or minimal human influence as a basis for wilderness is a flawed construct.

“It’s important to ask ourselves the question – is the passive conservation approach to forest management working? There’s plenty of burning evidence to suggest it’s not.

“As a society, we need to do better, and all forest and land management stakeholders need to re-think our approaches.

“While in many places it would be difficult or impractical to return fully to traditional land management practices, having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders assume central roles in forest management should be a priority. Traditional land management practices in Northern Australia have shown that even in a changing climate, active land management by Traditional Owners has good outcomes for fire management, biodiversity and the environment.

“Although melding western science with Traditional Ecological Knowledge may be a challenging process, listening to and working with Traditional Owners to implement their knowledge of caring for Country will help guide the development of a new vision for our forests.

“This will in turn allow us to care better for our Country and our forests; work to mitigate climate change effects and catastrophic fire events while conserving biodiversity. This melding of forest science with Traditional knowledge will also facilitate Traditional Owners to connect to country and practice this knowledge; providing employment opportunities for Traditional Owners and underpinning a circular renewable economy.”


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