Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Collaboration to protect biodiversity on Martu country

[February 2016]

The Throssell Coordinating Group is bringing together representatives of entities involved in land management on Martu country in Western Australia’s Western Desert region.

Punmu Rangers implementing a prescribed burn to protect Bilby habitatNamed after a low mountain range system in the northwest of the Martu Lands, the group, chaired by Rangelands NRM, meets several times a year to share land management experiences, discuss training and employment opportunities, and align activities for biodiversity management and protection.

Playing a central role in the Throssell Group is Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), a Martu organisation that supports Martu to look after Martu culture and country and helps build sustainable Martu communities.

Other parties in the group include the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (Parks and Wildlife) and mining companies Aditya Birla Minerals (operating the Birla Nifty copper mine), Newcrest Mining (Telfer copper and gold mine) and Cameco (proposed Kintyre mine).

Threatened species protection, fire management and Bilby and cat research were among the topics covered at the group’s recent meeting, as well as how to share resources.

Michael Robinson, Environmental Manager at Birla Nifty Copper Operation said one of the main activities of the group is to coordinate cross-tenure fire management that addresses both the protection of mining infrastructure and biodiversity.

“Much of the land around Nifty has burned in the past two years due to massive summer fires. The desert is sick ‘ you can see this when you compare the desert around Nifty, which looks very different, after the fires, to the land around Punmu, which is actively managed and burned by the Martu,” he said.

We found bilbies east of Nifty two years ago, but due to the fires, they are no longer there. Whereas, at Punmu, Martu have done lots of patch burning and bilbies are thriving around their community.

“The Outback needs to be better managed, but there just aren’t enough Martu Ranger resources to go around,” says Mr Robinson

aerial view of a fire south of PunmuKJ Fire Management Officer, Gareth Catt says the group aims to provide opportunities for knowledge sharing among generations of Martu Traditional Owners to be well understood by other non-Martu land managers and scientists working on Martu Lands.

“The Martu are always looking to manage country better and they are learning from elders and sharing knowledge among the generations, as well as learning from other experts,” he said.

Mr Catt says the Throssell Group involves the Martu in the planning and makes them feel welcome to operate closer to those companies boundaries in the Great Sandy Desert.

KJ, with support from Rangelands NRM and Australian Government’s National Landcare and Working on Country program funding, and other partnerships such as the Martu Living Deserts Project, are working with Martu women and men ranger teams to develop their core skills to undertake various culturally appropriate land management activities.

“Martu are assisting companies to care for country they are working on, to monitor threatened species and limit late season hot wildfires that are not favourable to country,” said Mr Catt.

Mr Robinson said in Western Australia all mines are required to do threatened species surveys for expansions or closure planning.

“Mining companies operating within the expanse of the Great Sandy Desert should be taking on board the Martu traditional ecological knowledge about how to manage fire and threatened species,” he said.

By working with the Martu, our neighbouring mining companies, and other organisations we can do more, have more impact, than if we only look at issues at our individual mine sites.

Parks and Wildlife joined the Throssell Coordinating Group to discuss their work in the Karlamilyi National Park, in the middle of the Martu determination.  This work includes surveys for threatened species like the Bilby and Northern Quoll as well as translocations of rock wallabies.

Key to the activities of Parks and Wildlife is working in partnership with Martu to reduce the impacts of inappropriate fire on country, an outcome that is being achieved through the application of traditional burning practices with modern fire management practices.

Parks and Wildlife’s Assistant Director Science, Dr Stephen van Leeuwen said the group allows all the parties to most efficiently work through the coordination and collaboration issues.

“It helps iron out the logistics of working together in a ‘can do’ atmosphere,” he said.

Dr van Leeuwen noted that œthis partnership between miners, traditional owners, biodiversity scientists and land managers is delivering positive results in better land management, nature conservation and wellbeing outcomes for Martu country.

Landscape-scale collaborations such as this are being fostered by Rangelands NRM across various parts of the WA rangelands.

Rangelands NRM Program Manager, Deserts and Pilbara, Chris Curnow says collaborative groups such as the Throssell Coordinating Group can tackle complex problems with greater return on investment through the application of adaptive management planning and the emergent principles of collective impact.

“Together, Throssell Group members aim to demonstrate the value of on-going investment in Desert country management,” he explains.

1)  Punmu Rangers implementing a prescribed burn to protect Bilby habitat.
2) Aerial view of a fire south of Punmu.
Images courtesy KJ.