Fire and Biodiversity Project

Environs Kimberley has worked with Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul Indigenous Rangers and partners to use science, cultural knowledge and local observations to understand how fire and weeds are threatening Dampier Peninsula’s monsoon vine thickets and improve planning and cooperative management.

Monsoon Vine Thickets (MVTs) of the Dampier Peninsula, are a unique, culturally significant and Vulnerable TEC (State of WA). This work has been instrumental in compiling evidence about the values and threats to the ecosystem and led to the Federal government recently listing the ecosystem as Endangered under the Commonwealth (EPBC Act, 1999). The listing recognises that this nationally significant ecosystem faces a very high risk of extinction in the near future.

MVTs span the Traditional country of Yawuru, Goolarabooloo, Jabirr Jabirr, Djabera Djabera, Nyul Nyul, Nimanburru and Bardi Jawi people. Many patches are important sites for Biidin or Jila, camping sites, ceremonial areas and law grounds and contain valuable bush food, seasonal fruits, carving timbers, medicines, tools and resources.

This rainforest ecosystem occurs in patches, within and behind the swales of coastal dunes. Containing almost a quarter of all the Peninsula plant species, they provide habitat and refuge for birds, bats and other animals, which move between patches, maintaining their connectivity.  Naturally fragmented and restricted, the loss of patches and dysfunction of the MVT ecosystem network is likely to have profound cultural and ecological impacts.

The impact of one of the greatest threats;  frequent hot fires, on Dampier Peninsula MVTs was previously unknown.  With Fisher Research, the DEC and SERCUL we used remote sensing to map the fire history of all 79 MVTs between 1990 and 2010. There was significant annual fire damage, having profound consequences for the ecological function, viability and cultural integrity of the entire Dampier Peninsula MVT ecosystem network.

We produced three types of maps for each of the 79 MVT patches:

1) Fire scars including year and season

2) Numbers of fires

3) Vegetation cover change across time

The fire history maps can be used to plan for, prioritise and manage fire and are available on request from the Bardi Jawi or Nyul Nyul Ranger office, or from Environs Kimberley.

We also identified three health indicators; vegetation structure, remnant tree understorey succession and ant communities. We developed, trialled and implemented the monitoring protocols which can be used to assess the health of MVT patches and guide weed and fire management. You can download the monitoring protocol document here.

We found that fire and weeds are degrading the structure of MVT’s, killing sensitive plants, assisting weeds and other invasive species (including ants) to invade areas and further promoting fire. Dampier Peninsula MVT’s need to be protected from fire and weeds to avoid further damage and loss.

You can read the preliminary findings compiled in 2011 here and reported here.

And listen to Bardi Jawi Ranger Mark Shadforth and EK’s Louise Beames, discuss the findings here.

The collaboration between Indigenous rangers with strong Traditional, local knowledge and practical skills, ecologists and partners has enabled the development of sound, culturally-informed science and the adjustment of 2012/13 cooperative management planning to prioritise and better protect MVT ecological function and significant cultural values. We now know that conservation of the Endangered Dampier Peninsula MVT requires significant changes to the current fire regime and the protection of MVT patches and adjacent pindan woodland from fire.

In late 2012, Environs Kimberley, Fisher Research, with Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul Rangers presented their findings to the Ecological Society of Australia Conference and the Society for Ecological Restoration Conference. See articles here and here.

Two scientific papers have been compiled and are awaiting publication:

“Fire history and vegetation change in threatened Monsoon Vine Thickets of northern Western Australia: applying culturally informed science.”

and

“Using ant communities to monitor changes within and surrounding the Threatened Monsoon Vine Thickets of northern Western Australia.”

The community summary document “Valuable and Endangered – Working together to understand and manage threats to Monsoon Vine Thickets of the Dampier Peninsula”  will be presented back to the ranger groups, their communities and the wider Kimberley community in 2013. You can access the community summary document here

For further information contact Louise.natureproject@environskimberley.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who are we

Louise Beames  coordinates the West Kimberley Nature Project (WKNP) and works with Indigenous ranger groups, communities and volunteer groups to coordinate and support natural, cultural resource management. The WKNP, funded by Rangelands NRM WA through Caring for our Country, is inclusive of the Fire and Biodiversity Project which received funding through the State NRM.

Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul rangers monitor, manage and protect their natural, cultural land and sea resources and are supported by Traditional Owners, funded through Working on Country, and facilitated by the Kimberley Land Council.

Ecologist Dr Judith Fisher (Fisher Research) was contracted by EK as a knowledge broker for this project.

Many thanks to Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul people who have supported the project on their country and accommodated the field sites.

Other people and organisations that have supported the project:

Thanks to Phil Docherty and the Society for Kimberley Indigenous Plants and Animals, David Dureau (Broome Botanical Society), Ricky van Dongen, Val English and Graham Behn (Department of Environment and Conservation), Julie Delaney (University of Western Australia), South East Regional Centre for Urban Landcare (SERCUL) volunteers, Matze Riedel (Technical University of Munich), Jason Roe, Taran Cox, Kylie Weatherall and Neil Hamaguchi (Environs Kimberley), Pat Lowe (Backroom Press)