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Fire management protects endangered finch and fairy-wren habitat on Kija Country

[November 2014]

Prescribed burning operations in the East Kimberley is helping to protect the habitat of endangered bird species.

Six Kimberley Land Council (KLC) Kija Rangers were engaged by Rangelands NRM to conduct prescribed burning operations in May/June with the primary aim of protecting Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) habitat on Violet Valley and Bow River stations, and Purple-crowned Fairy-wren (Malurus coronatus coronatus) habitat on Doon Doon station.

Kimberley Land Council Fire Management Officer, Richard Geddes, said both birds are iconic species of northern Australia whose habitat is under threat due to altered fire regimes.

“The project area included the combined areas of Violet Valley, Bow River, Doon Doon and Glen Hill stations which totals over 7500 km2, and has experienced fire regimes characterised by intense late dry-season fires (August-December),” Mr Geddes said.

This area may increase in coming seasons with discussions with neighbouring properties currently taking place.

Bow River and Violet Valley have been the subject of preliminary Gouldian Finch research led by WWF-Australia in 2009 where habitat for the species was mapped, including identifying potential high-quality habitat.

“These wildfires are a direct threat to the biodiversity of the project area including the Gouldian Finch and Purple-crowned Fairy-wren. Recent research has indicated that Gouldian Finch populations are dependent on seeding Triodia spp. (Spinifex grass) of at least three years of age in the late dry-season,” Mr Geddes said.

As Spinifex is highly flammable, it is susceptible to being destroyed by late dry-season wildfires and requires strategic fire management to protect these areas from being burnt.

Mr Geddes said proposed locations for aerial and on-ground prescribed burns were developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders with consideration for cultural sites, fire history, fire-sensitive communities and identified habitat for Gouldian Finch, Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and other threatened species.

“The aerial burn work was a combination of linked strategic firebreaks and patchy mosaic burning. When follow-up aerial burning was conducted in June it was observed that the previous aerial burn had burnt cool and patchy across much of their extent, an ideal outcome,” he said.

Much of the area burnt represented a high-risk of susceptibility to large late-season fires in 2014, due to its not being burnt for two or more years. The strategic approach undertaken should reduce the impacts and extent of late-season fires occurring in the East Kimberley, as well as provide an effective break for neighbouring pastoral properties.

Mr Geddes said the operation greatly complimented the Rangers newly-acquired prescribed burning skills, delivered by Kimberley Training Institute in the weeks leading up to the burns.

“The practical use of the equipment, and exposure to a relatively large-scale operation was invaluable experience for the Rangers, and will greatly increase their capacity to be effective in such operations in the future,” Mr Geddes said.

The operation also gave Rangers the opportunity to visit country that they had either never been to, or had not been to for years, a great outcome in itself.
KLC are planning to conduct follow-up sessions with TOs to discuss the effectiveness of the work done and the dangers of conducting unsolicited burns at the wrong time of the year.

For more information, contact Kira Andrews at Rangelands NRM

Image: Alec Echo undertaking ground-burning operations (©KLC)