Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Traditional and contemporary fire practices combine to improve desert health

[June 2013]

The traditional fire practices of Martu, the traditional owners of over 20 million hectares of the the Gibson, Great Sandy and Little Sandy Deserts are being documented and combined with contemporary land management techniques to improve the health of the Desert.

The Western Desert Traditional and Contemporary Fire Project is funded by Caring For Our Country through Rangelands NRM. Project partners include Central Desert Native Title Services (CDNTS), Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and CSIRO.

Traditionally, Martu used fire as a key tool to improve food resources, clear around sacred sites and for communication.

The project’s Fire Management Officer Gareth Catt of KJ said the absence of Martu from the desert after they had moved into settlements such as Jigalong and Wiluna meant a lack of traditional burning.

“This shift from a managed fire regime into a lightning fire regime was catastrophic for the biodiversity of the desert, with large hot wildfires occurring more frequently,” Mr Catt said.

This, combined with predation by cats and foxes, has led to a decline in many species.

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.

Ranger groups and community members are now working, with the assistance of DEC and the CSIRO, to re-establish this traditional fire regime across the broader landscape.

“This work is protecting sites, conserving biodiversity and providing a contemporary avenue for traditional culture to thrive,” Mr Catt said.

This partnership has demonstrated the benefits of mutual respect and creative approaches in enhancing the values of the desert.

Any other groups interested in the fire management strategy, please contact KJ on info@kg.org.au

Image: KJ rangers burning country to keep it healthy © Matthew Paterson, KJ