Western Desert


Numerous projects have been undertaken in the Western Deserts including:

  • KJ – Western Desert
  • CDNTS – Western Desert / CDNTS – Keeping Desert Country Healthy
  • Indigenous engagement and biodiversity program development on western deserts of WA rangelands
  • Western Desert Traditional and Contemporary Fire
  • Empowering Martu women to manage their country / Martu women looking after Country
  • Supporting recovery of threatened species in Birriliburu and Kiwirrkurra / Managing Birriliburu and Kiwirrkurra IPAs
  • Planning and Managing for Healthy Spinifex Country / Managing for Healthy Spinifex Country
  • Threatened species and fire management


Traditional Owners have been working to support rare and threatened fauna in the remote Western Deserts through combining traditional knowledge with contemporary science. This work involves determining locations and distribution of threatened species by intensive on-ground field surveys. The western desert region contains several nationally listed threatened fauna species which have been lost from large areas of the Australian mainland.

In 2002 the Martu People were granted native title of Martu Country in the western desert ((in the Great Sandy, Gibson and Little Sandy deserts). Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) has been working with Martu traditional owners to drive engagement and participation in conservation activities in this area.

The Central Desert Native Title Service (CDNTS), have been working with the Birriliburu (in the Little Sandy & Gibson deserts), and Kiwirrkurra traditional owners to manage key threatened fauna species and priority biodiversity assets in their Indigenous protected areas (IPAs).

The Pila Nguru Aboriginal Corporation are assisting the Spinifex community (in the Great Victorian Desert) to create a Healthy Country Plan.

Delivery organisation


The Martu focused on critical threats such as altered fire regimes and feral predators to increase native habitat for threatened species. They have also developed their capacity to address broad scale fires that have the potential to burn wildly across wide areas of the desert. The re-establishment of small Martu communities in the desert has led to an increase in burning close to communities. This has resulted in a return to a fine patchwork of burnt and unburnt areas, providing wildlife access to shelter, with bush food resources more common in the managed areas around communities. The on-ground work has predominantly focused on the reinstatement of traditional burning regimes, waterhole maintenance, feral animal control, treatment of invasive flora species and visitor management.

Projects in the Birriliburu and Kiwirrkurra IPAs have focused on several threatened fauna species–the crest-tail mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda), greater bilby ‘Mankarr’ (Macrotis lagotis) and the great desert skink (Egernia kintorei)–as well as significant natural and cultural areas. Additionally, the women of Wiluna have been engaged to provide environmental services that will support the recovery of the Jundee pastoral lease.

The Spinifex HCP plan is identifying management strategies and actions for threatened species including Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) and the Southern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes typhlops) both currently and historically known to occur within Spinifex Country.

All groups have provided short term, casual engagement of traditional owners as rangers on Country, to undertaking natural resource management work.

In 2017, hundreds of unique records describing the biodiversity of the Western Desert were added to WA’s NatureMap, developed by the Department of Parks & Wildlife. The data was collected over the course of the 2008¬2013 Western Desert project by ranger groups working on Martu Country (in the Great Sandy, Gibson and Little Sandy deserts), Ngururrpa Country (in the Great Sandy Desert), Birriliburu Country (in the Little Sandy & Gibson deserts), Spinifex Country (in the Great Victoria Desert) and Yilka Country (in the Great Victoria Desert).


This project has been ongoing since 2009 with funding from the National Heritage Trust, Caring for our Country and the National Landcare Programme.


Chris Curnow


Video–On Country in the desert rangelands

Video–Waru, kuka, mirrka wankarringu – lampaju (Burning, bushfoods and biodiversity) – Martu persepctives of fire

Video–The Art of Fire


“By combining traditional ecological knowledge with contemporary natural resource management techniques [Aboriginal] rangers are looking after country and increasing biodiversity through ‘right way’ fire, monitoring of threatened species and through the removal of feral animals.” Tristan Cole, Environmental Strategy and Services Manager at KJ


Articles about the Desert rangelands in the Rangelands NRM eNews