Curtin University researchers have begun mapping the structural vegetation, fire history and habitats of the northern Kimberley as part of the North Kimberley Fire Abatement Project (NKFAP).
The project, which aims to achieve positive social and ecological benefits, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the area, is funded by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Kimberley Land Council (KLC) and The Nature Conservancy.
Project Leader, Professor Laco Mucina and Research Assistant, Glen Daniel, of Curtin’s Vegetation Survey and Mapping group, are helping to gather data to identify potential fire fuel loads (biomass) and sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Professor Mucina said conservation of the environment and culture in the Kimberley through the application of an improved fire management program was a big priority for governments, traditional owners and the broader community.
The mapping project was essential to providing a better understanding of the vegetation and fuel types present on the land in order to implement the new fire program, and to monitor the impacts on the environment.
“Early European colonisation and disruption of traditional fire management practices has resulted in a shift from cool and patchy early dry season burning to larger and more destructive fires,” Professor Mucina said.
“The intense late season fires that are typical of the modern fire regime consume more fuel and leave fewer unburnt refuges than milder fires do.
“This has harmful effects on biodiversity and cultural sites and results in the release of more greenhouse gas than would be the case under a milder fire regime.”
Professor Mucina said knowledge of fire history, vegetation structure and biomass distribution was essential in understanding the potential for release of emissions and subsequent fire management in the north Kimberley.
“Mapping of fine scale habitat types is therefore important for monitoring changes that may have occurred with altered burning regimes, particularly for fire sensitive habitats such as rainforest,” he said.
“Our mapping will use a combination of satellite imagery analysis and fieldwork with field data collected collaboratively by the vegetation mapping team that includes staff from the DEC and KLC and traditional owners.”
Professor Mucina said the mapping process would be completed by mid 2012. He said the map would show vegetation structure, revealing the horizontal and vertical distribution of biomass within the vegetation.
“Structure includes consideration of the number of layers of vegetation that are present and the height and density of each layer,” he said.
“This structural information will be supplemented by information about the composition of the vegetation (dominant species) and its appearance or physiognomy (dominant growth forms).”
The NKFAP will also compile a 10-year fire history of the mapping area, developed using satellite imagery. The fire history will be partially validated using data collected by traditional owners as part of field exercise to assess fuel loads across the region.
The basis of NKFAP is the sale of credits for greenhouse gas abatement that results from the regime of large, destructive fires being reverted to one of smaller, milder fires. The income generated by the sale of credits will be used by land managers and traditional owners to employ rangers to undertake the required burning in a culturally and environmentally sensitive manner.
Professor Laco Mucina
Department of Environment and Agriculture, School of Science, Curtin University
Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mobile: 0401 103 755, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org