By Tim White, Regional Operations Manager, Andrew Francis, Brooklyn Sanctuary Manager & Lizzy Crotty, Philanthropic Relationships Lead, FoAWC UK
Since 2013, AWC has been successfully deploying best-practice fire management across the Upper Mitchell River Catchment Fire Management Area (Upper Mitchell Project) in north-east Queensland. Operating out of Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary, this collaborative project involves the delivery of prescribed burning across ten properties, covering 600,000 hectares (1,482,000 acres), and involving multiple tenures. The successful implementation of this project is helping to protect one of the most biodiverse regions of Australia, to safeguard Indigenous cultural sites and deliver benefits for landowners through improved productivity.
The 750-kilometre-long Mitchell River is vitally important for a wide array of species, originating at a unique intersection between the Wet Tropics and Einasleigh Uplands bioregions. This river runs for more than 40 kilometres through Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary. Around 4,000 hectares of Brooklyn are part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area – the largest privately owned world heritage listed area on mainland Australia. The property hosts a stunning diversity of species: 40 per cent of Australia’s bird species and 30 per cent of Australia’s mammal species can be found here.
Prior to acquisition by AWC in 2004, Brooklyn was a cattle station with little prescribed burning, resulting in intense, late dry season wildfires across large parts of the sanctuary and invasion of rubber vine. A lack of regular fire in tall eucalypt forests on the margins of rainforest led to woody thickening, invasion of rainforest plants and loss of grassy understorey.
The disruption of traditional burning practices across much of northern Australia has resulted in a regime of more destructive, high-intensity wildfires occurring every 1-3 years. These fires cause cascading detrimental impacts on biodiversity and pastoral productivity.
Biodiversity Impacts: ground cover is lost when large areas are burnt frequently and intensely, destroying habitat and available shelter in which native animals can hide from predators.
Environmental and Pastoral Impacts: regular, extensive wildfires destroy feed for cattle, reduce pasture quality, damage infrastructure, exacerbate weeds and cause erosion.
AWC is at the forefront of best-practice fire management in Australia and delivers the largest non-government fire management program in the country. AWC Sanctuary Manager for Brooklyn, Andrew Francis, has achieved exceptional results delivering ecologically friendly fire management across the 60,000-hectare property. Following a devastating season of wildfires which heavily impacted Brooklyn’s neighbours in 2012, Andrew invited the local landholders to gather together and in 2013 the Upper Mitchell Project was born. The project is delivered across Brooklyn, six neighbouring pastoral properties and a large Indigenous property – in total covering around 600,000 hectares (1,482,000 acres) in an area of international conservation significance.
Coordinated out of Brooklyn, this was the first collaborative non-government fire management program in Queensland. The project has fostered a strong community spirit well beyond the delivery of fire management, with many partners meeting for the first time through this initiative.
The Upper Mitchell Project is successfully reducing the percentage of country burnt by wildfires across the region. The average area burnt in late dry season wildfires prior to this program commencing was 13 per cent. This has now been reduced by nearly half, to an average area of 7 per cent over the last seven years. The reduction of destructive wildfires demonstrates the importance of taking a landscape-scale approach to prescribed burning.
The project provides a showcase for regional fire management – one that is generating exceptional outcomes for biodiversity, helping to restore and protect the complex ecosystems and natural assets of the region.
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