Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Managing fire and biodiversity conservation in the West Kimberley

Each month, we are focusing on a successful project that has been funded by the State Natural Resource Management (NRM) office. This month, we look at the development of comprehensive monitoring protocols for the federally Endangered Monsoon Vine Thickets of the Dampierland bioregion.

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[June 2013]

Research and monitoring protocols have been developed for the Endangered Monsoon Vine Thickets of the Dampierland bioregion to help measure ecological changes caused by weeds, land clearing and wildfires which are burning later, hotter and more frequently than ever before.

The comprehensive monitoring protocols will aid Environs Kimberley’s ongoing collaborative management of this ecosystem together with the Bardi Jawi, Bardi Jawi Oorany and Nyul Nyul Indigenous ranger groups who are facilitated by the Kimberley Land Council.

The protocols have been developed by the West Kimberley Nature Project, run by Environs Kimberley in conjunction with ecologist Dr Judy Fisher from Fisher Research. The ongoing project is funded by Rangelands NRM WA through Caring for our Country, whilst the monitoring protocols, vegetation and fire history research were funded by State NRM WA.

The research investigated how much impact the fires were having; how much vegetation had been lost; and whether there were any biological indicators which could reveal how the future impacts of fire or management activities might affect ecological health.

Malcolm Lindsay projects coordinator at Environs Kimberley said historically, the resulting complex ecological changes have been difficult to measure.

With help from the Department of Environment and Conservation’s (DEC) remote sensing unit, the satellite and fire scar data of around 72 Monsoon Vine Thicket patches from the last 20 years were analysed.

“The most sobering finding was that over 70 percent of the slow-growing and fire-sensitive Vine Thicket patches were being burnt every one to three years, a frequency far too high causing major losses in vegetation cover,” Mr Lindsay said.

As a result of this information, Environs Kimberley and the ranger groups were immediately able to focus our efforts on those patches that were most heavily and frequently burnt or had lost significant vegetation, in addition to focussing on patches of ecological and cultural richness.

It was largely the findings from this analysis which prompted the ecosystem to be listed as federally Endangered in March this year.

“This data was also used to influence the extensive and expert fire planning and management work undertaken by the ranger groups with assistance from the Kimberley Land Council and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (formerly FESA),” Mr Lindsay said.

In addition to the remote sensing research, rangers, Environs Kimberley and Dr Judy Fisher devised and carried out Monsoon Vine Thicket specific monitoring methods focusing on two biological indicators: vegetation structure and ant diversity.

An impressive 81 species of ants were recorded in the patches, with many niche species restricted to the middle, edge or outside of the vine thicket. Similarly, a whole suite of vegetation characteristics differed between the middle, edge and outside of the patch. These two biological indicators can be used to look at how a patch is retreating or regenerating in response to future impacts or management actions undertaken by the rangers.

Bardi Jawi ranger Kevin George said the ecologically rich rainforest ecosystem holds great cultural importance for Traditional Owners. He described the project as a successful partnership between ranger groups, Kimberley Land Council and Environs Kimberley.

“The partnership works well because of good communication and the need for rangers to access the best available science,” said Mr George.

By indicating the true impacts of fire and allowing the monitoring tools to measure its future changes, this research contributes greatly to the management of the Endangered Monsoon Vine Thicket of the Dampier Peninsula.
For more information contact Malcolm Lindsay at Environs Kimberley.