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Girringun Aboriginal rangers conduct first women-only controlled burn to protect mahogany glider

Cindy-Lou Togo has been working as a ranger for 10 years but had never done a controlled burn with a crew of only women until now.

Cindy-Lou Togo, left, and a team of female Girringun Aboriginal rangers did a controlled burn in Cardwell.(Supplied: Terrain NRM)

Key points:

  • The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation recently conducted its first ever controlled burn with only female rangers

  • It was to give the women the opportunity to lead in the traditionally male-dominated field of fire management

  • The burns are helping manage woodlands that are home to the endangered mahogany glider which is only found in north Queensland

Five female rangers from the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation in north Queensland conducted a cool burn at Cardwell last month to reduce fuel loads and help conserve the endangered mahogany glider.

Ms Togo said the women had previously only carried out burns with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service or male rangers from their group.

"This was the very first one with just us girls," she said.

"One of the girls, she stepped up into the role of being the incident controller of the fire and she was really nervous, but we did really well and I'm proud of the girls.

"I'd like to see our women rangers do more cool burns by themselves. It'd be a good opportunity to give some of the girls more hands-on experience and more responsibility."

Ms Togo, who has seven children and four grandchildren, became a ranger when she was 40 years old and said it was great more women had joined the group.

"I enjoy it. I like being out on country, I like learning from the elders, and I like passing on the knowledge that I'd learnt onto the younger generation," she said.

"Now I have a chainsaw licence, a drone licence, a Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management, a coxswain ticket and more. We visit schools and correctional centres to show there's a pathway.

"It's very rewarding and I'm sure the elders would love to see the younger generation ladies step up into being a ranger."

The Queensland Government said about 80 Indigenous women were thought to be working as rangers in the state, and the Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program was helping First Nations organisations employ 100 rangers, with women filling 21.5 full-time equivalent positions.

Burns help protect endangered glider

Natural resource management group Terrain NRM started working with the Girringun rangers five years ago to help them develop skills to undertake cultural burns on country.

North Queensland's elusive mahogany gliders are usually only seen at night.(Supplied: Daryl Dickson) The organisation's Jacqui Diggins said the burn was organised to give the women a chance to step into leadership roles with guidance from a female mentor "Often it's harder for women in general, not just Indigenous women, to be the leaders, especially in things like fire management, to get that opportunity to be the incident controller," she said. "This was an opportunity for the women to take the lead and show what they can do."The burns were carried out on 7 hectares of unallocated state land in Cardwell as part of a program to protect the endangered mahogany glider, which is only found in north Queensland.

The elusive creatures live in woodlands between the Hull River, near Tully, and Crystal Creek, north of Townsville, but had lost more than half of their original habitat largely due to agricultural expansion in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ms Diggins said habitat loss and fragmentation posed the biggest threat to the glider, and mosaic burning to thin the understorey without reaching the canopy helped improve the species' chances.

"When woodlands thicken it affects their ability to glide and reduces available food sources," she said.

"Burning promotes new regrowth, new food sources for them, and helps to encourage new den trees to be formed and keeps those habitats open."The conservation project also involved weed management, revegetating corridors and undertaking more detailed population surveys.

"The last population estimates that were conducted happened just prior to Cyclone Yasi and they estimated there was about 1,500-2,000 individuals out there," Ms Diggins said. "We have incidents of them being brought in fairly regularly from being caught on barbed wire so we do know they’re still out there."

First Posted 1 September 2020 at 3:20pm ABC Far North


+61 (0)7 4066 8300 / 235 Victoria Street, Bruce Hwy, Cardwell, QLD 4849, Australia


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