SEI researchers awarded black summer bushfire recovery grant

22 February 2022
A team of SEI researchers has secured funding to undertake groundbreaking research on community protection of animals during catastrophic fires.

SEI is delighted to announce that Deputy Director Danielle Celermajer, Director David Schlosberg and Postdoctoral Fellow Blanche Verlie have been awarded a major $800K Bushfire Recovery Grant from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources to carry out the research project, Developing systems and capacities to protect animals in catastrophic fires, in partnership with the Shoalhaven City Council.

This three-year research project will use the experiences of the 2019-2020 Black Summer fires to inform resilient, effective and targeted processes to support communities in the Shoalhaven LGA in caring for domestic and wild animals in the face of future catastrophic fires and other climate events.

This important work will engage with local communities to inform the creation of resilient processes for the protection of both wild and domestic animals, and will draw upon the informal mobilisation of community networks during the Black Summer fires to do so. It seeks to address current systemic gaps, such as the lack of formal structures, to support animals themselves and communities as they experience collective trauma and loss from the impact of fires on animals. This is particularly important given the extent of the devastation animals have faced and the threats they will face, and the stress many people continue to experience as they seek to care for animals in the face of climate change-driven disasters in the future.

The fate of animals (other than humans) during the Black Summer fires poignantly demonstrated the place they occupy in contemporary law and policy: they were left to die. And die they did: 3.25 billion native animals and an uncounted number of domesticated animals that officially registered as ‘livestock loss’. At the same time, the networks that people spontaneously created to move animals from places threatened by fire, to look after them, and to bring help to those who were injured signalled the profound care that people actually feel. The outcry of grief at the death and suffering of animals showed how poorly Australia’s official disaster-response institutions reflect the value that people place on being part of communities that include animals. This project offers a practical opportunity to support those grassroots initiatives and build a national social and institutional infrastructure to ensure that as climate catastrophic events multiply, animals count amongst those whose lives must, as a matter of justice, be protected.
SEI Deputy Director Danielle Celermajer

The project is designed to achieve several key objectives: to conduct research on the experiences of communities and factors that have facilitated/impeded efforts to produce a needs/capacities analysis; to facilitate workshops with communities of interest to identify effective support systems; and to formalise animal protection processes.

During times of turbulent events, like the bushfires, communities inevitably respond. People help each other out, they define problems and work on them – mutual aid becomes a way through the emergency and the rough times that follow. But it is often the case that governments miss this crucial community action, or develop policies and procedures that ignore the community knowledge that constructs these spontaneous responses. This project is all about acknowledging and recording the important, efficient, and successful grassroots community responses to the needs of animals. We hope these informal processes can be supported as Australia develops emergency, resilience, and adaptation practices in the face of the climate crisis.
SEI Director David Schlosberg

The project will:

  • Develop comprehensive data about community needs, capacities, experiences and resources for protecting animals during bushfires. 
  • Provide communities the opportunity to share their experiences and engage in future planning and mobilisation.  
  • Develop and produce community-generated ideas, models and plans for processes to assist animals in future fire events. 
  • Produce resources that enable communities, both those in the Shoalhaven LGA and others, to replicate processes to protect and care for animals during future climate disasters. 
“We are thrilled to be able to work with local communities to ensure that the knowledges and practices of multispecies disaster response that were generated during the Black Summer are documented, formalised, and upscaled. This will help to ameliorate the impacts of future bushfire and other climate disasters on the diverse and amazing animals in our worlds.”
SEI Postdoctoral Fellow Blanche Verlie

This important Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grant will enable the project’s team to explore pathways to better protect and care for domestic and wild animals in the context of fire events. The project forms an important and vital contribution to SEI’s community-based environmental research, particularly the Institute’s multispecies justice initiatives and work on social resilience and adaptation. It is hoped that this work will inform shifts in the policy environment to effectively support animals and local communities through extreme weather events such as bushfires. 

Header image: bushfires cross over a ridge near agricultural land and town in Tasmania, Australia 2020 by Matt Palmer via Unsplash.

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