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Active fire management is a key element of AWC’s conservation strategy at each of our sanctuaries.
The precise approach to fire management varies from region to region. However, in general terms, our aim is to implement a fire management regime that creates a patchwork – or mosaic – of burnt and unburnt areas across the landscape.
Key objectives include:
- Limiting the extent and severity of wildfires.
- Maximising the area of “old growth” vegetation in the landscape, as such vegetation is critical for the survival of many species. In northern Australia, “old growth” vegetation means unburnt for 3 years, whereas in the mallee country at Scotia “old growth” means unburnt for several decades.
Our core strategy is to undertake prescribed burning – that is, to light fires across each sanctuary at the right time of the year and under the right conditions. These prescribed burns may be lit by dropping aerial incendiaries from helicopter or by ground-based ignition lines. Our prescribed fires are designed to be “cool”, moving slowly through the landscape without consuming all of the vegetation in their path. A successful prescribed burn serves to reduce the risk of wildfire and to minimise the damage caused by any wildfire that does occur (e.g., by protecting old-growth vegetation).
We also establish and maintain fire breaks (often around roads) where appropriate.
When a wildfire does occur, AWC staff swing into action with highly co-ordinated fire suppression activities involving helicopters and ground-based fire response units.
EcoFire, an award-winning fire management program in the Kimberley involving 11 properties (3 million hectares) including indigenous communities and pastoralists.
A feature of our fire management program is our collaboration with neighbours. This is illustrated by EcoFire, an award-winning fire management program in the Kimberley involving 11 properties (3 million hectares) including indigenous communities and pastoralists. AWC’s role is to design the annual fire plan across this massive region, deliver the prescribed burning in collaboration with landholders and then measure its success. Over the last 10 years, EcoFire has more than halved the area burnt in wildfires and more than doubled the area of old growth vegetation across 3 million hectares.
The prescribed burning is designed to create a mosaic of burnt and unburnt areas across the landscape, creating a patchwork of fuel loads of different ages. By undertaking controlled, low intensity fires early in the season, it reduces the risk and severity of late season wildfires. This maintains dense grasslands and protects fire sensitive vegetation which is important habitat for a number of threatened species. Northern Quolls and other small mammals need ample thick cover throughout the landscape and depend on the ground-layer for food and for protection from predators like feral cats. Seed-eating birds such as the Gouldian Finch relyon access to long-unburnt spinifex with a healthy and diverse grass layer for food.