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Right way fire leading the way on the Dampier Peninsula

Dampier Peninsula Fire Working Group – Media Statement

Right Way Fire Leading The Way On The Dampier Peninsula

A collaborative effort to manage fire on the Dampier Peninsula has seen key project targets met ahead of schedule, leading to positive biodiversity, pastoral and cultural outcomes.

The Dampier Peninsula Fire Working Group, comprising Indigenous rangers from the Kimberley Ranger Network (an initiative led by the Kimberley Land Council) supported by Dampier Peninsula Volunteer Fire and Emergency Service units, state and local government agencies as well as pastoral and industry landholders and not for profit groups, works collaboratively to improve stakeholder communication, implement ‘right way’ fire management and decrease the incidence of ‘wrong way’ fire.

Combining traditional cultural fire knowledge with western science, the group set three key targets to measure their progress towards achieving ‘right way fire’ on the peninsula.

  1. The amount of fire that occurs in the mid to late dry season should decrease, and be replaced with fires that burn earlier in the year, when conditions keep fires smaller, cooler and patchier.
  2. The size of burn patches should be reduced, so animals living in burnt areas don’t have so far to travel to find food and shelter.
  3. The area of country that hasn’t burnt for at least 3 years should increase, so that plants and animals that prefer longer intervals between fires have habitat.

At its recent fire planning workshop, the group were presented with an analysis of how fire patterns are changing on the peninsula thanks to the project.  Using satellite imagery and spatial analysis, fire ecologist Professor Sarah Legge was able to demonstrate that at the end of 2019 all three targets set by the group had been met and surpassed.

She said the area burnt in intense late season fires had halved compared to the baseline, and the area burnt in all fires throughout the year had also almost halved.

‘This is a great result because as you reduce the intensity of fires, it means that there are more unburnt patches of vegetation left within burnt areas. Animals that live in burnt areas don’t have to move to find shelter and food, and they can escape predators like feral cats more easily if they have bits of unburnt vegetation to dash into.’

Professor Legge said the average distance from burnt to unburnt vegetation had also halved, meaning the size of burnt patches was getting smaller, again helping animals to persist in the landscape.

‘The area of country that hadn’t burnt for at least three years has increased by a third, and the area that hasn’t burnt for at least five years has doubled. This is great news for plants and animals that need longer intervals between fires to complete their life cycle, and to build up populations that can recolonise nearby burnt areas.’

Right-way fire also helps protect pastoral interests, by ensuring that there is some pasture left at the end of the year for cattle to feed on.

These scientific analyses of fire regime changes demonstrate a shift towards the ‘right-way fire’ that Traditional Owner groups have practised for centuries, and continue to advocate for on the Dampier Peninsula.

Phillip McCarthy, Bardi Jawi Ranger Coordinator, said the Working Group had really changed things on the Peninsula.

“It’s opened up communication between all the key groups in the area. We are now speaking with pastoralists, industry, government and other groups. We are sharing resources and knowledge and it’s making the Peninsula a safer place and protecting country,’ he said.

Neil Hamaguchi, Nyul Nyul Ranger Coordinator, said the Working Group was one of the best things happening in this part of the country.

“It’s good for the habitat, the people, our future and a great way of moving forward to right way fire together.’

Lee Vallance, DFES District Officer Remote Aboriginal Communities, said “it’s encouraging to see a good working partnership between all the parties to integrate traditional fire practices in modern mitigation work.”


A poster has been produced outlining the results – view it here – 2020 Dampier Fire Poster

Photo: Burning on Bardi Jawi Country taken by Andrew Morton