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Indigenous fire management supports rare finches and spots elusive possum

The east Kimberley’s Kija Rangers have recorded the first sighting of a Scaly-tailed possum (Wyulda squamicaudata) within Kija country for over half a century.

The Indigenous ranger group had been undertaking early season prescribed burning, funded by Rangelands NRM through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, when they made the exciting discovery.

Working with Kimberley Land Council fire coordinator Richard Whatley and WWF’s Alexander Watson, rangers Imran Paddy, Leon Cherrabun and coordinator Glen Murray, set up camera traps in strategic locations in the Saw Ranges during breaks from burning.

The aim was to capture images of threatened species, such as the Gouldian finch, but the team received a big surprise when in addition to recording Gouldian finches, an elusive Scaly-tailed possum appeared on one of the camera films.

Kija Ranger Coordinator Glen Murray said the sighting, the first in 58 years on Kija country, highlighted the importance of Indigenous land management and strategic early season prescribed burning.

“This is first recorded sighting of a Scaly-tailed possum on Kija country under active ranger management,” Glen said.

“We now have video evidence that this elusive species has returned to the Saw Ranges after half a century of not being seen in the area.

“This is certainly in part due to the improved land management practices, such as early season fire management, conducted and encouraged by the Kija rangers.”

The Kija rangers are part of the Kimberley Land Council facilitated Kimberley Ranger Network, an alliance of ranger groups located all across the Kimberley working on and caring for country. A key aspect of ranger work is early season fire management, which aims to reduce the impact of large wildfires in the late dry season and protects important habitat and cultural sites.

Glen said strategic fire management, based on traditional Aboriginal methods, had been a major focus for the year, with the ranger team working to build a complex fire history, with a varying degree of young and old as well as early and late burning history.

“Good prescribed burning creates more mixed fire ages at the end of the dry season, which then protects vegetation and wildlife, as well as cultural sites and values,” he said.

“The country is burnt via on-ground and aerial operations to install a mosaic of fire breaks and diversity in fuel loads. This prevents the extent and intensity of late dry season bush fires, which can be hugely destructive and can wipe out important habitat.”

“The rangers have also been working closely with neighbouring pastoral properties to manage fire to protect people, infrastructure and improve pastoral sustainability.”

Indigenous NRM delivers employment and empowers Indigenous skills and futures.

“Traditional Owner ranger teams conduct a range of activities to protect cultural and biodiversity values,” Glen said.

For more information about Indigenous fire management and Rangelands NRM visit www.klc.org.au or www.rangelandswa.com.au

Image: The Kija Rangers have captured video footage of a Scaly-tailed possum on Kija country- the first sighting in more than half a century. (Image: Kija Rangers)