“Burning to save Australia's Western Desert” — Al Jazeera report

Rachael Hocking, Al Jazeera reporter, travels to the Western Desert to spend time with a group of Martu rangers on a fire program set to stop the wildfires before they take hold.

The Martu are the Indigenous peoples of a large area of Australia's Western Desert. The Traditional Owners of those lands, the Martu, practised small-scale "land burning" for tens of thousands of years. The burning encouraged a regrowth of diverse vegetation across the landscape that would then make large-scale bushfires less likely to occur.

However, as the last of the Martu left the desert in the 1960s, wildfires devastated the landscape with as many as 18 animal species disappearing from the area since then. Martu returned to their homelands in the 1980 bringing back their ancient practice and an unparalleled knowledge of the land at risk of further damage. In 2002, the Martu were granted native title to their land.

Land burning forms thousands of small clear patches that can prevent large wildfires from taking hold. The rangers only burn when the circumstances are ideal: this means cool weather and green vegetation that is still green from the rains. This ensures that any ignited fires go out before gaining unwanted traction. 

Waka Taylor, a ranger and elder who remembers using fire not only for land burning but also to hunt, says the transfer of knowledge is a vital part of the practice too.

"I take them out and teach them so they can continue the practices of their ancestors," says Taylor of the younger rangers.

"This is how our old people lit their country in bushman days, creating burnt areas so bush food can regrow and for hunting." 

"We leave the knowledge with you," he says to ranger, Jarrod Kadibil.