The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

EcoFire: regional-scale prescribed burning increases the annual carrying capacity of livestock on pastoral properties by reducing pasture loss from wildfire

Anja Skroblin A , Sarah Legge A C , Terry Webb A and Leigh P. Hunt B

A Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, PMB 925, Derby, WA 6728, Australia.

B CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: sarah@australianwildlife.org

The Rangeland Journal 36(2) 133-142 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13095
Submitted: 12 September 2013  Accepted: 10 January 2014   Published: 11 February 2014

Abstract

Prescribed burning is an important management tool in the extensive pastoral lands in northern Australia. It can be used to influence grazing patterns, increase the nutritive value of pastures, reduce the density of woody shrubs and reduce the risk of damaging wildfires. The consequences of regional-scale prescribed burning on pasture availability and annual carrying capacities of pastoral properties in northern Australia were examined using EcoFire, a fire management program in the Kimberley Region of north-west Australia, as an example. Theoretical long-term carrying capacities of land systems, and fire scar imagery from years before (2004–06) and during EcoFire (2007–11) were used to model the impact of the program on the seasonality and extent of fire-induced losses in annual carrying capacity, and the likelihood of properties experiencing catastrophic losses in a given year. Over the 5 years that EcoFire has been running, it has resulted in a progressive reduction in the loss of annual carrying capacity caused by the burning of pasture, and shifted the season that annual carrying capacity is lost to fire from predominantly the late to the early dry season. Most notably, the established program has reduced the probability of experiencing catastrophic loss (defined here as >50% of annual carrying capacity removed due to fire) from 18 incidences to three incidences within a 3-year period. These outcomes have the potential to deliver economic benefits to pastoralists via increased annual carrying capacity and by improvements in pasture condition, provided stocking rates and pasture utilisation are managed carefully.

Additional keywords: fire ecology, grazing management, land management, remote sensing, savannah ecology.


References

ABARES (2011). ‘ABARES Survey of Beef Cattle Producers in Northern Live Cattle Export Regions.’ (ABAREA: Canberra, ACT.)

Andersen, A. N., Woinarski, J. C. Z., and Parr, C. L. (2012). Savanna burning for biodiversity: fire management for faunal conservation in Australian tropical savannas. Austral Ecology 37, 658–667.
Savanna burning for biodiversity: fire management for faunal conservation in Australian tropical savannas.CrossRef | open url image1

Andrew, M. H. (1986). Use of fire for spelling monsoon tallgrass pasture grazed by cattle (Northern Territory). Tropical Grasslands 20, 69–78. open url image1

Ash, A. J., and McIvor, J. G. (1998). How season of grazing and herbivore selectivity influence monsoon tall-grass communities of northern Australia. Journal of Vegetation Science 9, 123–132.
How season of grazing and herbivore selectivity influence monsoon tall-grass communities of northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Ash, A. J., McIvor, J. G., Mott, J., and Andrew, M. (1997). Building grass castles: integrating ecology and management of Australia’s tropical tallgrass rangelands. The Rangeland Journal 19, 123–144.
Building grass castles: integrating ecology and management of Australia’s tropical tallgrass rangelands.CrossRef | open url image1

Bowman, D. M. J. S., Brown, G. K., Braby, M. F., Brown, J. R., Cook, L. G., Crisp, M. D., Ford, F., Haberle, S., Hughes, J., Isagi, Y., Joseph, L., McBride, J., Nelson, G., and Ladiges, P. Y. (2010). Biogeography of the Australian monsoon tropics. Journal of Biogeography 37, 201–216.
Biogeography of the Australian monsoon tropics.CrossRef | open url image1

Burch, G. J., Moore, I. D., and Burns, J. (1989). Soil hydrophobic effects on infiltration and catchment run-off. Hydrological Processes 3, 211–222.
Soil hydrophobic effects on infiltration and catchment run-off.CrossRef | open url image1

Burrows, W. H., Carter, J. O., Scanlan, J. C., and Anderson, E. R. (1990). Management of savannas for livestock production in north-east Australia: contrasts across the tree-grass continuum. Journal of Biogeography 17, 503–512.
Management of savannas for livestock production in north-east Australia: contrasts across the tree-grass continuum.CrossRef | open url image1

Certini, G. (2005). Effects of fire on properties of forest soils: a review. Oecologia 143, 1–10.
Effects of fire on properties of forest soils: a review.CrossRef | 15688212PubMed | open url image1

Craig, A. (1999). Fire management of rangelands in the Kimberley low-rainfall zone: a review. The Rangeland Journal 21, 39–70.
Fire management of rangelands in the Kimberley low-rainfall zone: a review.CrossRef | open url image1

Crowley, G. M., and Garnett, S. T. (2001). Growth, seed production and effect of defoliation in an early flowering perennial grass, Alloteropsis semialata (Poaceae), on Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 49, 735–743.
Growth, seed production and effect of defoliation in an early flowering perennial grass, Alloteropsis semialata (Poaceae), on Cape York Peninsula, Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

DeBano, L. F. (2000). The role of fire and soil heating on water repellency in wildland environments: a review. Journal of Hydrology 231–232, 195–206.
The role of fire and soil heating on water repellency in wildland environments: a review.CrossRef | open url image1

Drucker, A. G., Garnett, S. T., Luckert, M. K., Crowley, G. M., and Gobius, N. (2008). Manager-based valuations of alternative fire management regimes on Cape York Peninsula, Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17, 660–673.
Manager-based valuations of alternative fire management regimes on Cape York Peninsula, Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Dyer, R. (2000). The role of fire on pastoral lands in Northern Australia. In: ‘Fire and Sustainable Agricultural and Forestry Development in Eastern Indonesia and Northern Australia’. (Eds J. Russell-Smith, G. Hill, D. Siliwoloe and B. Myers.) pp. 108–112. (Northern Territory University: Darwin, NT.)

Dyer, R. M., and Stafford Smith, M. (2003). Ecological and economic assessment of prescribed burning impacts in semi-arid pastoral lands of northern Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 12, 403–413.
Ecological and economic assessment of prescribed burning impacts in semi-arid pastoral lands of northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Dyer, R. M., Jacklyn, P., Partridge, I., Russell-Smith, J., and Williams, R. (2001). ‘Savanna Burning: Understanding and Using Fire in Northern Australia.’ (Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre: Darwin, NT.)

Fargher, J. D., Howard, B. M., Burnside, D. G., and Andrew, M. H. (2003). The economy of Australian rangelands – myth or mystery? The Rangeland Journal 25, 140–156.
The economy of Australian rangelands – myth or mystery?CrossRef | open url image1

Fisher, R., Vigilante, T., Yates, C., and Russell-Smith, J. (2003). Patterns of landscape fire and predicted vegetation response in the North Kimberley region of Western Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 12, 369–379.
Patterns of landscape fire and predicted vegetation response in the North Kimberley region of Western Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Fuhlendorf, S. D., and Engle, D. M. (2004). Application of the fire–grazing interaction to restore a shifting mosaic on tallgrass prairie. Journal of Applied Ecology 41, 604–614.
Application of the fire–grazing interaction to restore a shifting mosaic on tallgrass prairie.CrossRef | open url image1

Georgiadis, N. J., and McNaughton, S. J. (1990). Elemental and fibre contents of savanna grasses: variation with grazing, soil type, season and species. Journal of Applied Ecology 27, 623–634.
Elemental and fibre contents of savanna grasses: variation with grazing, soil type, season and species.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DyaK3MXhs1akt7s%3D&md5=d8ac0a40414005c0a46cad3d235d6a9bCAS | open url image1

Harris, S., Tapper, N., Packham, D., Orlove, B., and Nicholls, N. (2008). The relationship between the monsoonal summer rain and dry-season fire activity of northern Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17, 674–684.
The relationship between the monsoonal summer rain and dry-season fire activity of northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Hijmans, R. J., Cameron, S. E., Parra, J. L., Jones, P. G., and Jarvis, A. (2005). Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. International Journal of Climatology 25, 1965–1978.
Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas.CrossRef | open url image1

Hunt, L. P., McIvor, J. G., Grice, A. C., and Bray, S. G. (2014). Principles and guidelines for managing cattle grazing in the grazing lands of northern Australia: stocking rates, pasture resting, prescribed fire, paddock size and water points. The Rangeland Journal 36, . open url image1

Jansen, A., and Robertson, A. I. (2001). Relationships between livestock management and the ecological condition of riparian habitats along an Australian floodplain river. Journal of Applied Ecology 38, 63–75.
Relationships between livestock management and the ecological condition of riparian habitats along an Australian floodplain river.CrossRef | open url image1

Jenkins, T. G., and Ferrell, C. L. (1992). Lactation characteristics of nine breeds of cattle fed various quantities of dietary energy. Journal of Animal Science 70, 1652–1660.
| 1:STN:280:DyaK38zktVehtw%3D%3D&md5=7d015225fa2df14dcc766fff5d7f984aCAS | 1634388PubMed | open url image1

Legge, S., Murphy, S., Heathcote, J., Flaxman, E., Augusteyn, J., and Crossman, M. (2008). The short-term effects of an extensive and high-intensity fire on vertebrates in the tropical savannas of the central Kimberley, northern Australia. Wildlife Research 35, 33–43.
The short-term effects of an extensive and high-intensity fire on vertebrates in the tropical savannas of the central Kimberley, northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Legge, S., Murphy, S., Kingswood, R., Maher, B., and Swan, D. (2011). EcoFire: restoring the biodiversity values of the Kimberley region by managing fire. Ecological Management & Restoration 12, 84–92.
EcoFire: restoring the biodiversity values of the Kimberley region by managing fire.CrossRef | open url image1

Legge, S., Webb, T., Swan, D., Maher, B., Lawler, P., Smith, J., and Tuft, K. (2013). ‘EcoFire 2000–2012 Fire Pattern Analysis, Central and North Kimberley.’ (Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Perth, WA.)

Letnic, M. (2004). Cattle grazing in a hummock grassland regenerating after fire: the short-term effects of cattle exclusion on vegetation in south-western Queensland. The Rangeland Journal 26, 34–48.
Cattle grazing in a hummock grassland regenerating after fire: the short-term effects of cattle exclusion on vegetation in south-western Queensland.CrossRef | open url image1

Levin, N., Legge, S., Price, B., Bowen, M., Litvack, E., Maron, M., and McAlpine, C. (2012). MODIS time series as a tool for monitoring fires and their effects on savanna bird diversity. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21, 680–694.
MODIS time series as a tool for monitoring fires and their effects on savanna bird diversity.CrossRef | open url image1

Liedloff, A. C., Coughenour, M. B., Ludwig, J. A., and Dyer, R. (2001). Modelling the trade-off between fire and grazing in a tropical savanna landscape, northern Australia. Environment International 27, 173–180.
Modelling the trade-off between fire and grazing in a tropical savanna landscape, northern Australia.CrossRef | 1:STN:280:DC%2BD3MnksVynsw%3D%3D&md5=ae0f3d466e4253c756d364111a6f76c1CAS | 11697666PubMed | open url image1

MacLeod, N. D., and McIvor, J. G. (2008). Quantifying production–environment tradeoffs for grazing land management – a case example from the Australian rangelands. Ecological Economics 65, 488–497.
Quantifying production–environment tradeoffs for grazing land management – a case example from the Australian rangelands.CrossRef | open url image1

MacLeod, N. D., Ash, A. J., and McIvor, J. G. (2004). An economic assessment of the impact of grazing land condition on livestock performance in tropical woodlands. The Rangeland Journal 26, 49–71.
An economic assessment of the impact of grazing land condition on livestock performance in tropical woodlands.CrossRef | open url image1

McCulloch, C. E., and Neuhaus, J. M. (2005). ‘Generalized Linear Mixed Models.’ (John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.)

McIvor, J. (1981). Seasonal changes in the growth, dry matter distribution and herbage quality of three native grasses in northern Queensland. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 21, 600–609.
Seasonal changes in the growth, dry matter distribution and herbage quality of three native grasses in northern Queensland.CrossRef | open url image1

McKeon, G. M., Day, K. A., Howden, S. M., Mott, J. J., Orr, D. M., and Scattini, W. J. (1990). Northern Australian savannas: management for pastoral production. Journal of Biogeography 17, 355–372.
Northern Australian savannas: management for pastoral production.CrossRef | open url image1

McKeon, G. M., Stone, G. S., Syktus, J. I., Carter, J. O., Flood, N. R., Ahrens, D. G., Bruget, D. N., Chilcott, C. R., Cobon, D. H., Cowley, R. A., Crimp, S. J., Fraser, G. W., Howden, S. M., Johnston, P. W., Ryan, J. G., Stokes, C. J., and Day, K. A. (2009). Climate change impacts on northern Australian rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues. The Rangeland Journal 31, 1–29.
Climate change impacts on northern Australian rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues.CrossRef | open url image1

Murphy, S., Legge, S., Heathcote, J., and Mulder, E. (2010). The effects of early and late-season fires on mortality, dispersal, physiology and breeding of red-backed fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus). Wildlife Research 37, 145–155.
The effects of early and late-season fires on mortality, dispersal, physiology and breeding of red-backed fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus).CrossRef | open url image1

Neary, D. G., Klopatek, C. C., DeBano, L. F., and Folliott, P. F. (1999). Fire effects on belowground sustainability: a review and synthesis. Forest Ecology and Management 122, 51–71.
Fire effects on belowground sustainability: a review and synthesis.CrossRef | open url image1

Norman, M. (1963). The pattern of dry matter and nutrient content changes in native pastures at Katherine, N.T. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 3, 119–124.
The pattern of dry matter and nutrient content changes in native pastures at Katherine, N.T.CrossRef | open url image1

Novelly, P., and Baird, P. (2001). A process for re-assessing the potential carrying capacity of Kimberley pastoral leases. In: ‘Proceedings of the Northern Australia Beef Industry Conference’. Kununurra, WA. 8–9 November 2001. pp. 41–47. (Department of Agriculture: Perth, WA.)

Palmer, C. (2004). ‘Pastoral Property Management Practices and Kimberley Grasslands Curing.’ Report of the Kimberley Regional Fire Management Project to the Natural Heritage Trust. (Natural Heritage Trust: Canberra, ACT.)

Payne, A., and Schoknecht, N. (2012). ‘Land Systems of the Kimberley Region, Western Australia.’ (Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food: Perth, WA.)

Payne, A. L., Kubicki, A., Wilcox, D. G., and Short, L. C. (1979). ‘A Report on Erosion and Range Condition in the West Kimberley Area of Western Australia.’ (Western Australia Department of Agriculture: Perth, WA.)

Randel, R. D. (1990). Nutrition and post-partum rebreeding in cattle. Journal of Animal Science 68, 858–862. open url image1

Rossiter, N. A., Setterfield, S. A., Douglas, M. M., and Hutley, L. B. (2003). Testing the grass-fire cycle: alien grass invasion in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Diversity & Distributions 9, 169–176.
Testing the grass-fire cycle: alien grass invasion in the tropical savannas of northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Russell-Smith, J., and Edwards, A. C. (2006). Seasonality and fire severity in savanna landscapes of monsoonal northern Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 15, 541–550.
Seasonality and fire severity in savanna landscapes of monsoonal northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Russell-Smith, J., Ryan, P. G., and Cheal, D. C. (2002). Fire regimes and the conservation of sandstone heath in monsoonal northern Australia: frequency, interval, patchiness. Biological Conservation 104, 91–106.
Fire regimes and the conservation of sandstone heath in monsoonal northern Australia: frequency, interval, patchiness.CrossRef | open url image1

Russell-Smith, J., Yates, C., Edwards, A., Allan, G. E., Cook, G. D., Cooke, P., Craig, R., Heath, B., and Smith, R. (2003). Contemporary fire regimes of northern Australia, 1997–2001: change since Aboriginal occupancy, challenges for sustainable management. International Journal of Wildland Fire 12, 283–297.
Contemporary fire regimes of northern Australia, 1997–2001: change since Aboriginal occupancy, challenges for sustainable management.CrossRef | open url image1

Russell-Smith, J., Yates, C., and Lynch, B. (2006). Fire regimes and soil erosion in north Australian hilly savannas. International Journal of Wildland Fire 15, 551–556.
Fire regimes and soil erosion in north Australian hilly savannas.CrossRef | open url image1

Russell-Smith, J., Murphy, B. P., Meyer, C. P., Cook, G. D., Maier, S., Edwards, A. C., Schatz, J., and Brocklehurst, P. (2009). Improving estimates of savanna burning emissions for greenhouse accounting in northern Australia: limitations, challenges, applications. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18, 1–18.
Improving estimates of savanna burning emissions for greenhouse accounting in northern Australia: limitations, challenges, applications.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BD1MXhvFaqs74%3D&md5=4c16963f5ec10ba4f6593446d2166324CAS | open url image1

Skroblin, A., and Legge, S. (2012). Influence of fine-scale habitat requirements and riparian degradation on the distribution of the purple-crowned fairy-wren (Malurus coronatus coronatus). Austral Ecology 37, 874–884.
Influence of fine-scale habitat requirements and riparian degradation on the distribution of the purple-crowned fairy-wren (Malurus coronatus coronatus).CrossRef | open url image1

Stockdale, M., Huey, A. M., Dray, R., Holmes, P., and Smith, P. C. (2012). ‘Kimberley and Pibara RD&E Program: Phase 1.’ Final Report to Meat and Livestock Australia. (Meat and Livestock Australia: Sydney, NSW.)

Thompson, T., and Martin, P. (2012). ‘Australian Beef: Financial Performance of Beef Cattle Producing Farms, 2009–10 to 2011–12.’ (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences: Canberra, ACT.)

Townsend, S. A., Douglas, M. M., and Setterfield, S. A. (2004). Catchment cover and stream water quality in an Australian tropical savanna: rapid recovery after a change to a less intense fire regime. Ecological Management & Restoration 5, 136–138.
Catchment cover and stream water quality in an Australian tropical savanna: rapid recovery after a change to a less intense fire regime.CrossRef | open url image1

Valentine, L. E., Schwarzkopf, L., Johnson, C. N., and Grice, A. C. (2007). Burning season influences the response of bird assemblages to fire in tropical savannas. Biological Conservation 137, 90–101.
Burning season influences the response of bird assemblages to fire in tropical savannas.CrossRef | open url image1

Williams, R., Gill, A., and Moore, P. (1998). Seasonal changes in fire behaviour in a tropical savanna in northern Australia. International Journal of Wildland Fire 8, 227–239.
Seasonal changes in fire behaviour in a tropical savanna in northern Australia.CrossRef | open url image1

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Mackey, B., Nix, H., and Traill, B. (2007). ‘The Nature of Northern Australia: Its Natural Values, Ecological Processes and Future Prospects.’ (ANU e Press: Canberra, ACT.)

Woinarski, J. C. Z., Legge, S., Fitzsimons, J. A., Traill, B. J., Burbidge, A. A., Fisher, A., Firth, R. S. C., Gordon, I. J., Griffiths, A. D., Johnson, C. N., McKenzie, N. L., Palmer, C., Radford, I., Rankmore, B., Ritchie, E. G., Ward, S., and Ziembicki, M. (2011). The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response. Conservation Letters 4, 192–201.
The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response.CrossRef | open url image1

Yates, C. P., Edwards, A. C., and Russell-Smith, J. (2008). Big fires and their ecological impacts in Australian savannas: size and frequency matters. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17, 768–781.
Big fires and their ecological impacts in Australian savannas: size and frequency matters.CrossRef | open url image1



Export Citation