Judy Edwards

Judy Edwards

Former Minister for the Environment; Science

    Edwards initiates major fire review for Kimberley arid zone

    27/07/2005 12:00 AM

    Environment Minister Judy Edwards has initiated an extensive review of the ecological impacts of fire regimes in the interior and northern parts of the State.

    Dr Edwards today said the frequency, size and intensity of fires in the inland deserts and in regions such as the Pilbara and Kimberley were of major concern, because they were altering the ecological balance and causing a decline in wildlife populations.

    “Although fire is a natural part of the landscape in these areas, fire regimes have changed dramatically in the past few decades,” she said.

    “Advice from the Department of Conservation and Land Management suggests that these changed fire regimes are a major ecological threat in much of the State.

    “Indeed, fire in the north Kimberley is a most pressing issue from a biodiversity conservation perspective. This area is a ‘jewel’ in the conservation crown and fire regimes are essentially out of control.

    “The Environmental Protection Authority also has expressed its concern over the issue and consequently, I have asked the Authority to provide me with advice on the environmental impacts of current fire regimes in the interior and northern parts of the State with an emphasis on the Kimberley.

    “Key issues on which they will report are bio-diversity conservation and protection of environmental health along with the threats these too frequent fires pose to life and property and community assets.”

    The Minister said not only was she concerned at the frequency of fires in these regions, but also their extent.

    “Traditional owners have used fire for many thousands of years but these fires generally were small, patchy, low in intensity and lit at different times of the year, even during the wet season,” she said.

    “However, current fire regimes effectively have gone ‘feral’ and in effect are obliterating the mosaic of vegetation patches across the landscape. We are seeing a succession of bigger and more intense fires in the late dry season that is leading to a ‘simplification’ of the vegetation to the stage where there has been a loss of diversity of habitats.

    “What is particularly concerning is that the while the Kimberley contains among the most complete suites of wildlife of any major Australian region, we need to take action now to prevent a multi-million dollar bill to reconstruct the region’s bio-diversity.”

    Some of the major impacts as a result of altered fire regimes had been:
    • a decline in medium-size mammals in the lower rainfall areas of the north Kimberley;
    • degradation and loss of rainforest patches;
    • damage to overstorey trees such as pandanus palms and cypress pines;
    • loss of organic matter and lower soil fertility; and
    • soil erosion.
    “These ‘feral’ fires also are impacting on the aesthetics and amenity of the area that in turn impacts on tourism,” Dr Edwards said.

    “Also, parts of the northern Kimberley are blanketed in smoke for much of the dry season which also raises community health concerns.”

    The Minister said CALM was increasing its fire management resources in areas such as the Goldfields, Pilbara and the Kimberley. A fire ecologist would be based in Kununurra to research and advise on appropriate fire management and to work with scientists from CALM and the Northern Territory to improve knowledge of fire ecology.

    Fire management plans also were being developed for the Goldfields, desert hummock grasslands and the Kimberley.

    Dr Edwards said the EPA’s review would take about a year because of the complexity of the issues on which it had been asked to report.

    “In the meantime, CALM will continue its fire ecological research and adopt an adaptive experimental management framework in an effort to gain a greater understanding of the most appropriate fire regimes for the various regions,” she said.

    “The results of this work, and previous studies undertaken by CALM will be integrated into the EPA process.”

    Minister's office: 9220 5050