Fire management on track for endangered mahogany glider

2013 looks set to be a promising year for the conservation of endangered mahogany glider habitat with the Wet Tropics’ Terrain NRM hoping to exceed the target that was set for fire management in habitat by the Federal Government’s Caring for Our Country Habitat Incentives Project.

The endangered mahogany glider is only found in a very restricted area, a 110 kilometers narrow band from Ollera Creek (40 kilometers south of Ingham) up to Hull River near Tully, in Far North Queensland.

Their habitat consists of tropical lowland eucalypt and melaleuca woodland, 80% of which has been cleared, but with some of these open forests converting to pioneer rainforest because of altered and reduced fire regimes, the structure of these remaining fragments of habitat is severely threatened.

Endangered Mahogany Glider.

Endangered Mahogany Glider.

Altered fire regimes, as well as weed invasion and intensive grazing, threaten the necessary components of their habitat, such as tree hollows which the glider uses as dens for sleeping and breeding, the presence of an open canopy and the availability of a wide variety of food source.

The goal of Terrain’s eighteen month project was 2,000 hectares of fire management in critical habitat and with 1,490 hectares completed at the end of last year and 700 hectares planned for the last six months of the project, careful planning and landholder engagement is paying off for the glider.

“Fire management is a key tool in mahogany glider habitat conservation as it addresses woody thickening and rainforest invasion, two problems we encounter in what remains of the mahogany glider’s habitat,” said Terrain’s Cassowary Coast Team Leader Bart Dryden.

With only 20% of former habitat remaining and 65% of the remaining habitat existing on private properties, the engagement of landholders in the protection and recovery of this species is critical.

“The project enabled us to identify a number of priority habitat areas so that we could then approach the landholders in those areas in order to determine who was able and willing to work to implement habitat burns,” said Terrain’s Biodiversity Team Leader Rowena Grace.

Patrina Stanford, who runs a cattle property with her husband at Range View Nature Refuge, west of Ingham, says they have always used fire as a tool on their property but in 2011, partly due to Cyclone Yasi, were not able to get as much done as was needed.

Through the Habitat Incentives Project the Stanford’s firebreaks, which had been lost in TC Yasi, were reinstated and they were able to conduct a controlled burn at the end of last year.

Terrain worked with partners, the Queensland Rural Fire Service, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Hinchinbrook Shire Council and HQ Plantations, as well as with eight other landholders, to carry out a number of controlled burns on properties in mahogany glider habitat last year.

The project is also contributing to more long-term fire management plans as at Range View, due to Terrain’s work in coordinating the aspirations of the two landholders bordering the National Park, five year management plans are being developed for the area.

The plans will sit with the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing as well as the landholders, and ensure the allocation of resources for the National Park to allow burns each year over a five year rotation, making sure that within the next two years, 1,000-2,000 hectares will be under appropriate fire management increasing to 3,000 – 3,500 hectares over the five year period.