Category Archives: Fire Ecology & Management

Fire management at Two Peoples Bay – Mt Manypeaks, Western Australia

Key words: environmental management, threatened species, collaboration, communication

Allan Burbidge

Fire management is a major challenge where there are multiple conservation values and potentially conflicting adjacent community values; the challenge is further exacerbated in landscapes involving rough terrain where access for fire management is difficult. All three factors occur in the Two Peoples Bay – Manypeaks area in south-western Australia, which is mostly conservation estate, with some water reserves, and surrounded by private land. In this often steep and rocky landscape, there are threatened vertebrates such as the Noisy Scrub-bird and Gilbert’s Potoroo, threatened plants and short range endemic relictual invertebrates, all with different habitat requirements, and therefore different management requirements. Superimposed on this are community values which involve the surrounding relatively small private holdings, with homes, timber plantations, stock and agricultural infrastructure

Bushfire on Mount Manypeaks (Photo: Ed Hatherley)

Fire management by the State conservation agencies in the area during the 1970s focussed on fire exclusion, as it was believed that this was optimal for the locally endemic and newly rediscovered Noisy Scrub-bird. However, this resulted in dangerous fuel levels, posing a threat to this species and other conservation values. Despite the need to reduce the threat, only minimal use of prescribed fire was able to be applied to manage fuel levels, because of the area’s difficult terrain and the requirements for many species for long interfire intervals.

Water bomber on route to fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

The problem seemed intractable until local managers, researchers, senior agency managers and policy makers were brought together to debate the options in a focussed meeting. After considerable debate, this group agreed that selected prescription burns in the untracked zones of Mt Manypeaks could be carried out and some patchy ignition could be initiated on the upper slopes by aerial ignition, in a way that minimised negative impacts on populations of threatened species. This in itself was a challenge, as virtually everywhere in the 28 000 ha study area provided habitat for at least one threatened species.

Noisy Scrub-bird (Photo: Alan Danks)

This process is ongoing and adaptive, particularly in the sense that wildfires extent and impact can never be predicted, but some key points have emerged. First, no single group had all the answers or expertise to understand the complex situation, underlining the importance for all practitioners to embrace dynamic and ongoing partnerships. Progress only came with co-ordinated and collaborative commitment from researchers, policy makers and managers. Second, we found that generalised models are inadequate for (complex) individual cases, particularly where there are multiple species of interest, and these species have different management requirements. Third, the old linear model of management was simply not functional; new knowledge and assumptions concerning the dynamic nature of the threatened fauna and flora populations demanded dynamic management, preferably in an adaptive management framework.

Mount Manypeaks after fire (Photo: Sarah Comer)

Major players in this process have come from Nature Conservation Division and Science Division staff within the Department of Environment and Conservation, with species specific input from the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Team, Gilbert’s Potoroo Recovery Team and the Albany District Flora Recovery Team.  Strong collaboration with other land managers such as Water Corporation and plantation managers is essential for the successful management of the conservation interface with other land uses.

Further reading:
Comer, S., and Burbidge, A. H. (2006). Manypeaks rising from the ashes. Landscope 22(1), 51-55.

Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email sarah.comer@dec.wa.gov.au ) and Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email allan.burbidge@dec.wa.gov.au)