[ASC-media] Fire threatens the Kimbereley's fragile landscapes

Jenni Metcalfe jenni at econnect.com.au
Mon Aug 9 18:13:41 EST 2004

Fire threatens the Kimberley's fragile landscapes
For immediate release, August 9


There is a critical need to manage fire in north-west Australia with a third of the Kimberley being burnt out in successive years affecting the landscape's vegetation, animal population, tourism values and Aboriginal culture.


"We have had too many fires in the Kimberley in the last five years," said Nat Raisbeck-Brown, working with the Kimberley fire management project. 


"The last two years have been very mild years with respect to fire but the years 1999, 2000 and 2001 were extreme. These fires were burning over a third of the country here and changing the landscape. People urgently need to know how to manage country for fire."


In response to this sort of issue, the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) has provided $1.9 million to the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to develop, implement and monitor guidelines for best managing fire across northern Australia.


The new Savannas CRC project will develop the capacity of Aboriginal, pastoral and conservation land managers to manage fires across northern Australia, said CRC Project Leader, Jeremy Russell-Smith, from the Northern Territory Bushfires Council.


"Fires are creaming our landscape up north," he said. "The Kimberley is recognised as a national biodiversity hotspot with animals that are not found anywhere else decreasing in numbers. The rich diversity of plants and animals in the fragile sandstone gorges are particularly vulnerable to the effects of hot fires."


Fire affects the conservation of every animal species in northern Australia. And according to researchers, there has been broadscale decline of many animal species adapted to the fire patterns present prior to European settlement. 


For example, the endangered Gouldian Finch has declined dramatically across the northern savannas. One factor in this decline may be the change from early dry season patchy fires to hotter fires later in the dry season that destroy the fallen seeds that these birds rely on.


Ms Raisbeck-Brown is working with graziers and Aboriginal communities across the Kimberley to better understand and manage fire across the region and will continue her work with the new CRC project.


"The old people who have been living on this land for many years tell me that in the last 10-20 years the landscape has changed," she said. "This new NHT project will mean we can continue working with the people up here to try and manage fire better.


"Everyone up here knows what a big problem fires are. Part of my job is to get people accessing the current fire information so they can better manage their country for fire."


Dr Russell-Smith said one of the best things about the project was that it involved employing people such as Ms Raisbeck-Brown to directly work with graziers, Aboriginal groups and conservation managers.


"One of the biggest problems is achieving cultural change," he said. "We need to overcome this by getting people involved and doing it collaboratively. This means getting black fellas working with the pastoralists next door. With such remote areas, we need to help people to rely on their own resources. 


For interview: 

Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith, phone (08) 8979 0772    mob. 0439 820 104

Ms Nat Raisbeck-Brown, phone 0407 221 976


For media assistance: Jenni Metcalfe, phone 0408 551 866, jenni at econnect.com.au

Peter Jacklyn, phone 0439 820 104, 08 8946 6285, email peter.jacklyn at cdu.edu.au


Satellite images and photos (as jpeg files) are available showing the fires in northern Australia; spectacular broadcast quality video footage is available of fires burning in northern Australia.


Also see: www.firenorth.org.au to see where fires are currently burning in northern Australia - click on a region and see if there have been any fires in the last 12 hours

Savannas are tree-grass landscapes covering almost a half of Australia. They are important to northern Australia supporting the pastoral, mining and tourism industries, worth many millions of dollars. While they are well known in Africa for supporting large animals like lions and elephants, in Australia they are important conservation areas supporting many different types of plants and animals. Importantly, these landscapes also support a large population of Indigenous people in varying forms of land use including traditional activities.


Jenni Metcalfe
Econnect Communication Pty Ltd
PO Box 734
South Brisbane Q 4101

Phones: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866; 07 3254 0354 (home)
Fax: 07 3846 7144
Email: jenni at econnect.com.au
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