Working together on fire on the Pilbara Pastoral / Desert Interface – Part 2

Host: Rangeland Natural Resource Management
Written by Chris Curnow – Program Manager (Desert & Pilbara), Rangelands NRM.

Related to the ongoing discussions on the Pilbara/Desert boundary is the story of what another pastoralist is doing nearby at Yarrie station. Annabelle Coppin, like many pastoralists, believes that too much of her country on Yarrie has burnt for too many years in a row.

It’s late November 2016 when I visit Yarrie and it’s the start of a dry East Pilbara summer. We don’t know it yet but come February and March this country will be kick-started with some outstanding falls of rain. But right now, it’s hot and dry and we’ve gathered at Yarrie, northwest of Marble Bar, to assist Annabelle and her husband Thomas Fox (owner and manager of the famous Iron Clad Hotel) in the development of a Yarrie Station fire strategy and a Burn Plan for 2017; one that will assist them to prioritise where and how they will burn for the coming season. I’ve brought with me landscape scientist Richard Glover and fire ecologist Dr Sarah Legge. Richard is preparing an ESRM plan for Yarrie and Sarah has come to share her insights, gained from over ten years improving the fire regimes across Mornington Station (managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy) and in cooperation with surrounding cattle stations in the West Kimberley (a highly respected initiative known as EcoFire). We combine some sessions in the shade pouring over large poster-sized maps with some reconnaissance trips in the chopper to allow Annabelle to show Richard and Sarah the various landscapes, land types and vegetation complexes across Yarrie.

At the end of a few busy days, made even more enjoyable by Annabelle’s generosity of spirit, her mother Anne’s bush hospitality and Thomas’ laconic humour and keen insights, Richard and Sarah have the bones of the job assembled in the form of copious notes, and many maps with colourful squiggles and lines all over them. We leave Yarrie and drive the spectacular Boreline Road north towards the Great Northern Highway, through Shay Gap and we marvel at the red mesas and buttes flanked by straw coloured spinifex hummocks. The last thing Annabelle shows us is her desert tree plot, fed by a bore that BHP maintain to feed their Yarrie Mine operations. Set up as a small-scale experiment, the plot itself is prone to being wiped out by future wildfires; more reason to get those plans into action.

Over the coming weeks, interrupted by the Christmas silly season, Richard and Sarah prepare the Yarrie ESRM and Fire plans. By January we’ve all collaborated on various drafts and when the massive wall posters arrive in the snail mail to Yarrie, Annabelle is excited that their massive format will allow her to muse over them and share them more readily with her station team members. They are a dynamic tool for reflection and modification.

Back in Newman, after our meeting with the East Pilbara pastoralists, Gareth was excited to get on with the actual task of working out just how Martu Rangers and these stations can work more closely together. So, watch this Pilbara/Desert space, and note that it’s a huge space, indeed visible from Space! The rains have come and the billabongs and lakes are full. This only means that come the next dry season the fires could be bigger.

Collaboration between Pilbara pastoralists, fire ecologists and desert Martu couldn’t have come at a better time.

Chris Curnow
Program Manager (Desert and Pilbara)
Rangelands NRM

Yarrie Station: Annabelle Coppin, owner and manager of Yarrie Station, has received some good late summer season rains in February and March this year. Following strategies she’s developed with Sarah Legge (enshrined in the newly developed Yarrie Fire Strategy) she is getting out and about on her rejuvenated country trying to get some wet burns into the landscape. The plan is slowly create a diverse range of vegetation age classes, improve her best countries pasture production and generally make her country a more resilient landscape for her cattle business and the biodiversity that co-exists there. Credit: Annabelle Coppin.

Richard Glover (Landscape Scientist), Dr Sarah Legge (fire/ecologist) and Annabelle Coppin discuss Yarrie Fire Strategy, November 2016, Yarrie Station. Credit: Chris Curnow / Rangelands NRM.