More than 40 fire management stakeholders came together last month to hear from and share information with fire experts and practitioners working in Western Australia’s rangelands region.
The event highlighted the need for active and coordinated fire management to protect rangelands values: biodiversity; communities and culture; economic; pastoral value; and tourism.
Held at the Perth Zoo on 18 November, the event was hosted by Rangelands NRM and opened by Mr Shane Love, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development; Lands; Minister Assisting the Minister for State Development.
It was an initiative of the Fire Leadership group, who, together with Rangelands NRM, drive ongoing fire management awareness raising and actions.
Mr Love officially launched the newly extended North Australia and Rangelands Fire Information (NAFI) website that has been extensively used for fire mapping in Northern Australia.
“Fire is tenure blind, it is not constrained by tenure boundaries,” Mr Love said.
“It is therefore vital we continue to look for ways to work together on fire management (between neighbours and cross-sector) in a well-planned way if we are to protect the things that we value in the rangelands.”
The extension of NAFI to encompass the rest of the WA rangelands was a cross-sector collaboration coordinated by Rangelands NRM, that received wide support at the 2015 Fire Forum. Partners in the initiative included:
- Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ)
- Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust
- Pilbara Corridors Project
Initial overviews provided details of how the new information is supporting fire management efforts on the ground. A technical overview of the NAFI website was also given.
These were followed by brief presentations from practitioners including wildlife ecology, pastoral and indigenous fire coordination. Each spoke about their first-hand experience, the fire issues they faced, what they have done differently and their use of NAFI.
Insights into the links between fire, feral cats and biodiversity indicators were provided by Dr Sarah Legge Research leader, Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Her research shows feral cats prefer areas burnt by intense fires, especially in habitats with high small mammal densities.
From a pastoral point of view, fire at the wrong time can be catastrophic, but well-managed fire is critical, according to Anne-Marie Huey of Dampier Downs Station in the West Kimberley.
Evidence presented by Kanyirninpa Jurkurrpa Fire manager Gareth Catt pointed to traditional fire use being the best thing for country.
Martu have an intricate knowledge of fire use,” he said.
“Re-establishing traditional fire practices produces a great mix of fire ages that allow for hunting and foraging around communities, and recently burnt areas provide food and a succession of plants that come back after fire.”
Rangelands NRM took the opportunity of this event to extended an invitation for attendees to join and expand the fire leadership group and/or be kept informed of regional collaboration to share research and information on fire management efforts and projects in the WA rangelands.
Rangelands NRM’s Connect, Coordinate and Deliver approach aims to make a bigger impact and optimise individual efforts by working together with different stakeholders from all sectors on key NRM issues in this vast region.
Image: Attendees listen to the presentations (J. Webb)
The Rangelands Fire Leadership Group comprises the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Aboriginal Corporation and Pastoralists, Graziers Association of Western Australia and Rangelands NRM.
Why is fire management needed?
For tens of thousands of years, the WA rangelands evolved in collaboration with Aboriginal people playing an active role in fire management; this in turn shaped the rangelands. The burning practice of ‘fire-stick farming’ facilitated the resource management of natural landscapes for the benefit of human use. Country managed through ‘patch burning’ and small scale habitat mosaics subsequently mitigated the devastating effects of destructive wildfires. This evolutionary partnership ensured fire was intrinsic to the natural ecological rangeland processes, including landscape function.
Today, however, we see much of the rangelands out of balance, a boom-bust wildfire cycle, with too little quality prescribed burns being implemented, which is invariably followed by too much ‘bad fire’ in the landscape. Inappropriate fire regimes in the WA rangelands are omnipresent, negatively impacting infrastructure and property, biodiversity values, conservation assets, land condition, grazing productivity, cultural heritage sites, visitor expectations and places of national significance.