Savanna Explorer > Kimberley > Fire > EcoFire: Kimberley Fire Managment

Fire management in the Kimberley

The following article is from Savanna Links, Issue 35, January – July, 2008. Savanna Links is written and produced by the Tropical Savannas CRC.

Kimberley coordinates fire management

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.

Ecofire staff_community
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 fires.

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.

2006 kimberley fire patterns
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

2007 Kimberley fire patterns
Maps created by S. Murphy, Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Data from FireNorth (NAFI):

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 million hectares.

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 community.

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.


Dr Sarah Legge
Ecologist Northern Australia
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Tel: 08 9191 4619
Fax: 08 6267 8065