By Jessica Chapman
Indigenous ranger groups are integral to the management of threatened species and their habitats across Australia. I see this first-hand in the remote Kimberley region.
Here, WWF engages with Indigenous rangers through our Kimberley Indigenous Ranger Threatened species program. The Rangers are working to help protect a variety of culturally important threatened species - from the Gouldian Finch, Wiliji and Nabarlek, to the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Northern Quoll. In the past we’ve also partnered to projects monitoring Snubfin dolphins and surveying for bilbies. But species conservation - on land and sea - is only one part of the environmental work that Indigenous rangers do. They also manage feral animals and weeds, conduct prescriptive burning, erect fences, and maintain infrastructure and important cultural sites. These tasks are often thankless and unglamorous, and performed under the most trying conditions.
I developed a new appreciation of their contributions when I joined the Balanggarra Rangers near Wyndham, in the east Kimberley, to do some prescribed burning in March. The burning was designed to prevent hot late-season fires from threatening the town and a number of nesting boxes which have been installed in the surrounding savannah woodland to provide refuges for the threatened Gouldian Finch.
It was an incredibly humid and hot day, around 40 °C. Together, we walked through the bush with drip torches, lighting fires that we then fanned using blower vacuums. But the air was still and the fires didn’t ignite well that day. Rangers had to spend many more days on the job, and eventually resorted to dropping incendiaries from an aircraft. It demonstrated how traditional practices and modern science can go hand in hand and how much Indigenous rangers have yet to teach us about integrated land and species management.
In my view, enlisting Indigenous rangers is the key to looking after Indigenous species. It's not only good for the environment, but also good for people, because it provides meaningful work in isolated areas and reinforces connections to country - their country.
Partnering with Indigenous people who have lived on our continent for millennia, who know its seasons and species intimately, has been an enormous privilege for me. It has also greatly enhanced and enriched WWF's conservation efforts.
So, on World Ranger Day, I take my hat off to Australia's Indigenous rangers, all 700 of them.
WWF-Australia would also like to thank Lotterywest, primary funders of the Kimberley Indigenous Ranger Threatened Species program.