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East Kimberley Uunguu Rangers’ fire mitigation program proves major success

A wildfire mitigation program, which incorporates traditional principles and modern technologies on country, has seen a 70 per cent decrease in the damaging fires which ravage wildlife habitats, cultural sites and infrastructure.

Running for the past nine years, Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation’s Right Way fire program has seen Uunguu Rangers and traditional owners planning and implementing mosaic-patch burn patterns using a mix of aerial incendiary and ground-burning techniques throughout the cooler dry season to prevent lightning strike wildfires later in the year.

The program takes place on up to 20 per cent of country between April and June each year and has seen the amount of country damaged by wildfires drop from 26 per cent to just 7 per cent since it began operation.

Jeremy Kowan, front, and Damon Bundamarra watch the burn.
Camera IconJeremy Kowan, front, and Damon Bundamarra watch the burn.

Before the program starting, wildfire greenhouse gas emissions averaged 104,000 tonnes a year, with current emissions now believed to be halved to about 50,000tpa.

The abated greenhouse gas emissions are registered with the Clean Energy Regulator and converted to Australian carbon credit units, which WGAC trades in the emerging carbon markets.

The trading of credits also provides employment and career opportunities for Uunguu Rangers and traditional owners working on country.

The work involves fire management, monitoring and research operations to refine fire-management tools, measuring and reporting on the benefits of improved fire management.

At the end of the burn each year, Uunguu Rangers also lead a team of traditional owners on a week-long cultural fire walk to connect to country and teach younger generations the techniques.

Wunambal man Collier Bundamarra recently returned from his first fire walk and said it helped him feel more confident on country.

“It was pretty hard, but once you settle into the bush, it’s alright,” he said.

“We were following the King Edward River. We went fishing, caught bream … it feels like home. I belong out here.”

Jeremy Kowan lights a fire.
Camera IconJeremy Kowan lights a fire. Credit: Picture: Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation/ Mark Jones

Uunguu Ranger Jeremy Kowan said using his knowledge of traditional owner fire management was a good way to connect to country while keeping it healthy.

“We burn slow, slow, slow to stop all that hot fire rushing, so it burns all over the countryside,” he said. “We burn around the art sites to keep the grass lower — fire can destroy art sites, crack all the painting in the rocks. Burning is good for the animals. One big area will be cleaned up by fire and we start to see that new growth and animals come back to that area to eat the new vegetation.”

Mr Kowan said the mosaic pattern used in the burn allowed animals to escape instead of being trapped in fires.

“Burning we can feel our old people, they would be proud of us,” he said.

“We don’t see any snakes and no one slipped over the rocks.”

He said they were safe because the old people looked out for them.

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