Birriliburu & Bunuba Partnerships: empowering rangers and sharing knowledge

on 10 Jun 2016 

It was one of those working weeks when you get to truly appreciate the opportunities Bush Heritage partnerships offer and how they contribute to successful conservation and cultural management outcomes.

Travelling off the Canning Stock Route into the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) within the remote Little Sandy Desert; our objective for the week was to implement ground burning in remote areas around Katjarra (the Carnarvon Range) with the Birriliburu Rangers.

As part of the Birriliburu partnership, Bush Heritage had chartered a helicopter so that rangers could access remote country in order to conduct ground-based patch burning. The historical fire scar mapping compiled by ecologist, Dr Vanessa Westcott, enabled us to strategically choose burn sites, aimed at continuing the mosaic of mixed-aged burns across this very pristine landscape.

Challenged by Vanessa to find an introduced weed out there (that’s like a red rag to a bull) all I turned up where a few feral camels. I was so impressed with the first-rate condition of the environment, I think the rangers got sick of me gushing about it. Regardless, it's a credit to the ongoing cultural and professional land management being undertaken by the Birriliburu Rangers.  

Bush Heritage's role, aside from providing the resources to charter the chopper, was to share some remote area, and aircraft and helicopter, safety knowledge with the ranger teams who were to be dropped into inaccessible areas. The rangers had some laughs while role-playing helicopter safety – using a land cruiser as our mock chopper – before the real thing arrived. When the helicopter arrived, the pilot ran the group over the machine; which the rangers were well prepared for. 

Personal locating beacons (SPOTS), UHF radio and satellite phone familiarisation was part of the communication strategy we developed with the pilot and base team leader, Hamish Morgan, from Central Desert Land & Community.

The Birriliburu Rangers guided our flight paths to the burn sites so they didn't interfere with sacred areas; which all ensured a safe and professional fire management project was completed. Ranger teams, when dropped off, would note weather conditions, fuel loads and landscape, before starting ground burning using matches to create low-intensity spot fires. 

All flight paths, as well as drop-off and ignition sites, where mapped as we went about the business of dropping three ranger teams in the remote desert country. Smoke, hi-vis clothing and real-time navigation mapping meant the process of picking up and relocating rangers to the next site was efficient and maximised our fuel and flight times.

Over three days on-site, the rangers collected data from monitoring sites within the region, conducted walking protection burns at cultural sites and a landscape of mosaic burns via helicopter, completed training elements for their conservation management certificates, and spent time talking to and visiting country.

Australian indigenous communities are always connected through family, skin and marriage – and Bunuba and Martu have these ties. They’re linked by the Western Desert and family, but they've also both partnered with Bush Heritage. 

We have well established relationships with these two Aboriginal corporations, which is part of our strategic investment into Aboriginal partnerships aimed at providing lasting and significant conservation value across the Australian landscape. 

The Birriliburu and Bunuba indigenous partnerships encompass a total of about 22 million hectares – both of which represent high cultural and conservation lands – where local indigenous communities have invested in their own independent ranger teams.

These are top-shelf examples of Bush Heritage's vision; that our partnerships will be characterised by empowered, sustainable and healthy Aboriginal communities, that are strong in their culture and laws, that are living on country and generating business and work in keeping their country healthy.

Plans are now afoot to facilitate the Birriliburu Rangers to come north to the western Kimberley to share and help the Bunuba mob with some of the projects being undertaken as part of the Jalangurru Muwayi Healthy Country project. (Just try to find some camels up here Vanessa!)