The Kimberley’s new fire management program,
EcoFire, has now completed its early dry-season prescribed burn
program for 2008—throughout 14 central and northern Kimberley
properties, covering almost 5 million hectares.
Left: EcoFire project and community members at Mornington Wildlife
Sanctuary: From left Greg Towns (AWC), Butch Maher (pilot),
Steve Murphy (AWC), Sarah Legge (Project Manager), and Sammy Walker
and Jock (community members) Photo: AWC
In recent decades the Kimberley has been subject to frequent,
extensive mid-to-late dry season fires (i.e. July–December).
These fires have high economic costs for the Kimberley’s
pastoral industry and negative cultural impacts for Indigenous
communities. They also have devastating ecological consequences and
have been blamed for declines in threatened bird species, small
mammal populations and sensitive vegetation communities.
The EcoFire project, contracted by Rangelands NRM Coordinating
Group to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), aims to change
the Kimberley’s prevailing fire patterns through a
coordinated regional approach to fire management.
Regional burn plan
EcoFire addresses fire issues primarily through a Regional Burn
Plan, which emphasises strategic early dry-season prescribed
The project unites neighbouring properties including
pastoral, Indigenous pastoral lease, conservation lands and
unallocated Crown land (see map, top opposite page). There are
varied land management objectives: some participants are concerned
with economic or cultural impacts, and others with ecological
impacts of current fire patterns.
Each year fire histories are prepared via the FireNorth website
(NAFI), using archived satellite imagery for property
owners/managers to design prescribed burn plans. A regional plan is
then developed, linking firebreaks between property boundaries.
Aerial incendiaries are dropped in the early dry season (April and
May) to establish firebreaks. Property managers also carry out
on-ground follow-up work.
The firescar maps show the contrast of planned and unplanned fires
over the project’s life: in 2006, damaging wildfires far
exceed planned burns. By 2007, late-season wildfire has decreased,
with an increase in early season prescribed burns
Maps created by S. Murphy, Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Data
from FireNorth (NAFI): www.firenorth.org.au
Dramatic change in 2007 regional fire patterns
Stage 1 of EcoFire involved nine Kimberley properties. At the
end of 2007 it was evident that fire patterns were strikingly
different to previous years (see firescar maps, right). Mid to late
season unplanned fires were largely contained and comprised a
significantly lower proportion of all fires. The fires were smaller
and patches of burnt and unburnt vegetation were scattered more
evenly throughout the project area providing refuges for wildlife
and grazing stock.
Prescribed burns in 2008
Based on the success of its first year, the Rangelands NRM
Coordinating Group (RCG) renewed EcoFire’s funding in 2008
(see box, at end of article).
Strong community interest saw the project area expand to include
five additional properties, taking the project area to almost five
The Regional Burn Plan was implemented during April and May: AWC
staff and property owners flew around 24,000 km, dropping 30,000
incendiaries. At the same time EcoFire’s project partners,
the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the
Fire Emergency Services Authority (FESA), carried out aerial
burning on neighbouring national parks and pastoral stations.
Project manager, Dr Sarah Legge, said that already it was clear
that the regional effort invested in fire management in 2008 far
exceeded previous years.
“The Kimberley region is now better prepared than ever
before for the mid-to-late dry fire season,” she said.
“This year has seen an unprecedented level of prescribed
burning activity in the Kimberley—both in terms of the
practical effort put in by many people, and also in terms of the
level of cooperation between individuals and organisations in the
region,” Dr Legge said.
“We’re all starting to feel that the seemingly
insurmountable problem of huge, destructive fires may be manageable
after all,” said Dr Legge.
The effectiveness of this year’s prescribed burning will
be assessed at the end of 2008. Stage 2 of EcoFire now includes
additional monitoring, development and communication programs. The
WA Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) are monitoring the
relationship between different sorts of fires, grazing pressure and
pasture condition. The Kimberley Land Council is facilitating
participatory fire planning with Indigenous communities, and FESA
is providing training in prescribed fire management. Finally, AWC
is implementing a communication strategy targeting the broader
The RCG anticipates EcoFire will gain funding in 2009, and will
be continued into the future.
The EcoFire project
THE Rangelands NRM Coordinating Group (RCG) invested in the
Kimberley’s EcoFire project in 2006. RCG then contracted the
Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) to manage the
project—AWC is a non-profit organisation dedicated to
conserving Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems.
Ecofire is guided by a steering committee of stakeholder
representatives including local government, WA’s Department
of Environment and Conservation, the Kimberley Land Council, WA
Fire and Emergency Services Authority, the Department of
Agriculture and Food WA and the Pastoralists and Graziers
Association as well as RCG and AWC.