Media ReleaseFire & Flood Resilience15 Dec 2020

Air and ground mission launched to slash disaster risk by half

The Healthy Landscapes Mission has a goal to halve the risk fire and flood disasters pose in Australia’s 50 most vulnerable regions by 2025.

Signs of regrowth are seen amongst bushfire affected natives and blue gum forestry. Photo Credit: Lisa Maree Williams / Stringer via Getty Images.

Minderoo Foundation today launched the Healthy Landscapes Mission with a goal to halve the risk fire and flood disasters pose to the environment, wildlife and communities in Australia’s 50 most vulnerable regions by 2025.  

The Healthy Landscapes Mission has highlighted critical gaps in information about local landscapes – crucial data on native wildlife, fuel loads and ground characteristics that impact the severity and likelihood of fires and floods, making vital decisions about safeguarding these environments a challenge. 

It is setting out to change that by incorporating the recommendations outlined in the Royal Commission into Natural Disasters. These include gaining a better understanding of environmental assets such as flora and fauna, measuring and reducing fuel loads and implementing cultural land management techniques used by traditional owners. 

The Mission will focus on three key areas of intervention and solutions: 

  • Landscape Knowledge – Conducting research to understand flora and fauna needs before, during and after a disaster to inform resilience planning. 
  • Landscape Action – Measuring and applying locally adapted land management practices which further build local knowledge and skills and create an evidence base. 
  • Landscape Investment – Using ground sensors, drones, aerial and satellite technologies to measure how landscapes respond in real-time in greater detail. By identifying the natural capital of the landscape this will attract investment to protect these valuable assets.  

It is the second Mission of an audacious plan launched in September to lift resilience so fires and floods don’t become large scale disasters. The first Mission, Fire Shield, also launched in September, aims to extinguish dangerous fires within an hour by 2025 and relies on knowledge of terrains and wildlife to inform where firefighting assets are pre-positioned to achieve this goal.

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust and the Australian Institute of Botanical Science are partnering with the Minderoo Foundation to support ambitious programs to conserve Australia’s flora.

“As fires, droughts and other devastating events in Australia have exemplified, protecting plants is critical and we welcome the opportunity to bring our world-leading botanical research to this important mission to invest in effective conservation solutions,” Chief Executive of the Botanic Gardens and the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, Denise Ora, said.

“We also recognise that our understanding of plants and their environment is informed by thousands of years of knowledge generated by First Nations people. Our aim is to generate science that will continue this connection with country to promote a broader appreciation of Australia’s unique flora.”

A major component of the Mission is natural capital investment, which involves financially measuring what different aspects of a landscape, such as trees and waterways, are worth to encourage more investment to future proof the environment against disasters while protecting our biodiversity.

Using the latest artificial intelligence and drones, Australian start-up Dendra Systems will measure different characteristics of landscapes to determine how they are regenerating. It will be looking at areas such as soil moisture and erosion, invasive species such as weeds and the amount of fuel load.

Dendra Systems CEO Susan Graham said the company is conducting aerial seeding to replant entire regions of damaged land.

“Being able to measure landscapes in more detail is a key part of the mission, as it enables us to determine where to invest in restoration and the value you get from doing that. Aerial seeding can be done quickly and at scale in a way that’s much more effective than having boots on the ground,” Ms Graham said.

Federal Environment Minister Susan Ley welcomed the announcement of the new Mission, stressing the importance of partnerships and shared knowledge in understanding Australia’s unique environment. 

“We can all play a role in protecting our environment from the threats of natural disaster and in building its overall resilience. I am pleased that my Department is working with Minderoo Foundation on these important issues and linking the work of our range of programs, including the Environment Restoration Fund, Threatened Species and $200 million Bushfire Recovery Funding,” Minister Ley said. 

Chief Executive of Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative, Adrian Turner, said the Healthy Landscapes Mission was aimed at making landscapes more resilient, saving lives and creating new economic value. 

“Local knowledge and technology will play a key role in understanding the relationship between different landscapes and their risk of fires and floods. This will help to inform more targeted land management practices such as where to clear fuel loads and what types of plants can aid as natural fire retardants,” Mr Turner said. 

Indigenous knowledge and cultural burning can significantly reduce hazard levels. Preliminary analysis indicates that implementing controlled burns across Australia every year could reduce hazard levels by as much as 10 per cent on average and up to 18 per cent in southeast Australia in the coming decade.

The CEO of Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, Lawrence Perry, said local Aboriginal Lands Councils, Hunter Local Land Services and Tocal College will undertake a pilot cultural fire mentorship to support 22 indigenous community members to apply fire management techniques through culturally informed practices across the Hunter.  

“The Wonnarua Nation and Minderoo Foundation will work together to further incorporate Aboriginal Custodians’ land management with contemporary practice. In doing so, it will broaden engagement across multiple regions and realise opportunities to engage with other Traditional Custodians,” Mr Perry said.  

Initial partners for the Healthy Landscapes Mission include Australian Citizen Science Association, The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, The Australian Institute of Botanical Science, Wonnarua Nation, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Accounting for Nature, CSIRO, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Dendra Systems, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, and the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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