HUNTER Local Land Services is working with local Aboriginal communities to bring traditional burning practices back to country.
The Cultural Burn Mentoring Program will run over the next three years, in partnership with nine Local Aboriginal Land Councils and Traditional Owner groups, Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation and Tocal College.
The initiative is supported through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program, NSW Government's Catchment Action NSW and Department of Education and Training.
The program will initially see 22 Aboriginal students complete Conservation and Land Management training where, for the first time, cultural burning practices have been included as key modules.
Hunter Local Land Services Aboriginal community officer Jess Wegener said the module would increase community understanding of cultural burn practices and connection to the land.
"It is such an amazing opportunity to be able to build confidence in using traditional Aboriginal practices to reconnect with culture," she explained.
"Hunter Local Land Services has been working with communities over recent years to develop this unique program and reinvigorate cultural burning practices locally.
"This new module and expanded program builds on our previous smaller cultural burns and training opportunities.
"So, we are looking forward to working with the participants on this new expanded program by offering them each a small training scholarship."
The students met in the Upper Hunter last week to start the mentoring program, with support from Hunter Local Land Services, Firesticks Alliance Aboriginal fire practitioners, Tocal College, Wanaruah LALC and the NSW Rural Fire Service-Hunter Valley.
The pupils gained skills in on-site monitoring, land assessments and developing cultural burn plans with local elders and practitioners, to initiate the cool burn process.
Several sites were selected on both public and LALC lands for the initial training, with some cultural burns conducted, and post burning these will be monitored over coming years, and applied with additional burning as needed.
"Over the next three years we will be adding more sites to the program, and we will mentor the students along the way," Ms Wegener said.
"We are keen to set up demonstration sites in Box Gum Grassy Woodlands in the Upper Hunter to understand how fire can benefit this native vegetation, including suppressing weeds and encouraging native ground-cover and tree regeneration, which could be a potential tool for local farmers."
Box Gum Grassy Woodlands, which are typical on the Merriwa plateau, are listed nationally as a threatened ecological community.
Hunter Local Land Services is running a project through the Australian Government's National Landcare Program to manage and protect this significant vegetation by working with farmers, Aboriginal communities and Landcare through to 2023.
Any farmers in the Merriwa district who may be interested in establishing cultural burning demonstration sites are being asked to contact Adam Bush by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning the Scone office on 6540 2400.