Vegetation fire and cultural landscapes in Fiji

There are three main types of fire in Fiji.  Sugar cane farmers burn their fields to facilitate hand harvesting.  Village farmers clear forest plots, fallow fields, and secondary vegetation for diverse crops using fire.  And finally, the fires that cover the most ground are those set in the grasslands of the drier, lee-side of the islands.  And of course there are occasionally fires that cause trouble – late last year I saw a major fire burning through the pine plantations in southeastern Viti Levu.

These uses of fire are quite similar to the rest of the world, as fires are a favourite tool that people everywhere use to shape and manage their landscapes. As I suggest in a recent review article (1), a lot remains to be learned about Pacific Island fire regimes.  Can we get a better sense of the history and ecological dynamics of Fiji’s grasslands, both pre- and post-settlement?  What are the relationships of Fiji’s grasslands to fire and introduced species, and are they in need of conservation?  Is fuel control is an unspoken outcome of grassland burning practices here as elsewhere?  How is fire use changing as Fijian society modernises and develops?  What is the government approach to fire management?

I conclude in the review paper that building on traditional burning practices might be the best path for future management.  Also, I argue that “decisions about fire are ultimately political balancing acts between different interests (farmers reliant on fire, health workers citing ill effects, foresters protecting plantations, environmentalists counting carbon). Research is needed to provide better evidence-based information for such decisions and to determine the appropriate institutional pathways such that decisions can be made with legitimacy and are likely to be enforceable.”

 (1) Kull, Christian A. (2012)   Fire and people in tropical island grassland landscapes:  Fiji and Madagascar.  Journal of Pacific Studies 32: 121-129.  PDF

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