Improved fire regime planned for Yarrie

[Jan-Feb 2017]

Experts have recently visited pastoral stations in the Pilbara and Kimberley to assist with new fire planning.
Although many pastoralists have always had fire plans, there is limited support for pastoral stations to tackle the often vexed question of the future management of wild fire in the landscape and use fire to the advantage of pasture management and as a complementary tool to total grazing management.

Experts visited Annabelle Coppin, owner and manager of Yarrie Station and Outback Beef Company as well as Yeeda station in the Kimberley to help each pastoralist plan for improved pastoral and land management outcomes by developing property-level fire management strategies and a burn plan for 2017.

Rangelands NRM Program Manager (Pilbara & Desert) Chris Curnow, Dr Sarah Legge (a conservation ecologist who specialises in threat management and threatened species recovery), and landscape scientist Richard Glover of Contour Consulting have been working with Annabelle to assist her to better understand and plan for the transition to an improved fire regime.
Chris said while unmanaged fire is a huge problem for the rangelands, it is encouraging pastoralists like Annabelle are willing to tackle the complex set of competing issues. 

He added it was Annabelle’s intention to reduce the extent of land affected by extensive wild fires and increase cool burns.

“Ultimately, this will improve the long-term sustainability of pastoral production, achieve conservation outcomes for native species, and perhaps reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The visit to Yarrie took place in late November where Chris, Sarah and Richard met with Annabelle to complete the ESRM (Environmentally Sustainable Rangeland Management) plan, and provide the opportunity for Sarah to see first-hand the landscape and the pattern of vegetation age classes post-fire.

Sarah has a strong background in fire management, for example she developed the Kimberley EcoFire  project. Since December, Sarah has produced a Yarrie fire strategy which outlines Annabelle’s longer term objectives for fire management on the property, in the context of the historical fire regimes, plus a burn plan for the property for 2017, which sets out the shorter term prescribed burning activities for this year.

“Prescribed burning can complement good grazing management to reduce the likelihood and impact of unmanaged wild fires,” Sarah said.

“By managing fire carefully, we can improve the general condition of the land, with benefits to wildlife as well as long term pastoral production.”

“At Yarrie, we aim to reduce the incidence of really large wildfires, decrease the fire frequency in some areas of the property, increase the ‘patchiness’ of different vegetation ages post-fire, and protect high-value areas from being burnt in a wildfire.”

Chris said Annabelle is very keen to pro-actively manage fire, however, the task of changing fire regimes involves substantial investment in terms of time and funds, and finding this investment is hard for family-operated stations.
“To bring the Yarrie Burn Plan into full effect will require some assistance if Annabelle is to be able to deliver the series of prescribed burns required,” he said. 

Annabelle is also working towards a monitoring system that allows her to see how she is both improving pasture production, reducing land degradation and maintaining habitat for native species. Ultimately she’d like to be able to provide a ‘health score’ so that markets purchasing her Outback Beef product understand her triple bottom line approach to managing Yarrie Station.

“I’m a strong believer that cattle production and biodiversity complement each other, they come hand in hand. With the correct practices we can feed the world and improve our country at the same time,” Annabelle said.

Progress towards achieving the objectives of the Fire Strategy will be reviewed each year, by tracking changes in the fire regime (using satellite imagery), and by monitoring changes in the habitats, using photopoints and assessment of ground surface condition. 

Chris said the process of doing ESRM planning hand-in-hand with fire planning was mutually beneficial, with questions regarding the ESRM planning side of things complementing the things that Sarah needed to know regarding fire planning and vice versa; so the combination worked really well together, and added to everyone’s experience. 

“It was a case of great minds coming together. Richard and Sarah both observed the same things, yet from different angles, arriving at new understandings of the same problem,” he said. 

A visit was also made to the Yeeda Pastoral Company leases (Yeeda, Kilto and Mt Jowlaenga), in the West Kimberley, managed by Jack Burton. A Fire Strategy and 2017 Burn Plan for these properties has also been produced.  

Chris said developing the property Fire Strategies are an important opportunity for pastoralists to discuss their aims for fire management with different experts, and to develop plans for carrying out that fire management.  

(L) Annabelle Coppin undertakes some strategic patch burning after some late summer rains finally come to a parched Yarrie Station (Pilbara northeast); Annabelle is following her recently complete Yarrie 2017 Burn Plan, which Sarah Legge assisted her to develop and funded by Rangelands NRM (NLP). (A.Coppin, Yarrie Station)
(R) Sarah Legge (L), Annabelle Coppin (Centre) and Richard Glover (R) inspecting areas at Yarrie Station (C.Curnow)