Bernie Goldie

Tree-changers and bushfires target of new study

A PhD student at the University of Wollongong is investigating the dynamics between bushfires, tree-changers and the Rural Fire Service in several NSW rural areas comparable to rural landscapes hardest hit by the devastating Victorian bushfires.

Despite the recognised bushfire hazard in many new rural landscapes, Ms Christine Eriksen a geographer from UOW's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said little was currently known about how local environmental knowledge on bushfires is produced and/or shared among diverse landowners in changing rural landscapes.

"And also how this influences the dynamics of NSW Rural Fire Services brigades and local natural resource management," Ms Eriksen said.

She is focusing her research on the three new rural landscapes of Kangaroo Valley in the Shoalhaven; the Nattai-Oakdale/Orangeville-Werombi area of Wollondilly Shire; and Windellama in the Goulburn-Mulwaree region.

[A new rural landscape is a rural area experiencing population growth as a result of its proximity to major urban areas or its high amenity value. With the influx of tree-changers (lifestylers), the ageing and/or decline of more traditional rural populations and the subdivision of farmland, lifestyles and values more commonly associated with urban areas are being brought into rural places, while conflict over land use and management practices in increasing]

The basic aims of Ms Eriksen's research are to:

    • Identify landholders' attitudes and actions (or lack of) towards bushfire and bushfire management in new rural landscapes

    • Identify what factors are significant in influencing the stance rural landholders take towards bushfires

"The study examines how landholders manage their land and prepare for bushfires and how people learn about bushfires and bushfire management," Ms Eriksen said.

Ms Eriksen said her project has revealed that many women do not engage with bushfire prevention, preparation and response.

“Instead, women tend to rely on the knowledge and ability of men which places them in a vulnerable position when a blaze approached their home.”

She has learnt this through a survey of about 350 rural landowners in the three new rural landscapes her project is targeting. Of those surveyed, only 24 per cent had fought a bushfire on their property or had helped a friend or family member protect their property.

Ms Eriksen said rural women she has spoken to have identified the need for female-only bushfire training courses as women discuss issues on a different level to men.

"Men are much more focused on fighting the fire rather than having strategies in place to get children and pets out," she said.

Ms Eriksen recently presented her findings to the Rural Fire Service and hopes to have her research published. The Rural Fire Service presentation was as part of a group from Professor Ross Bradstock’s Centre for Bushfire Risk Management.

Ms Eriksen's PhD supervisors are Dr Nick Gill (Earth and Environmental Sciences); Professor Lesley Head (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Professor Ross Bradstock (Institute of Conservation Biology).

Her project has received funding from the UOW Research Partnerships Grant with the NSW Rural Fire Service; Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre Project Funding; and from GeoQuEST Small Grants.