Witnessing just a fraction of their vast property makes you astounded to think there are several significantly larger stations in Australia. According to the station owner, Howard Kingsley, theirs is one of the few remaining family-owned stations in the country, making them exceptional in an era where large corporations dominate.
Managing the Australian Savanna to maintain a healthy land
Intense wildfires can inflict substantial damage on savanna ecosystems: they instantly disrupt the ecosystem's natural equilibrium and its resilience. This happens as the intense fires burn the grass-dominated understory vegetation and blacken the soil surface. Controlled burns, on the other hand, which the Kingsleys operate as part of a fire management emission reduction project on their property, help reduce the fuel load by burning off the excess vegetation on the ground, promoting healthier vegetation growth underneath. This helps protect their land from wildfires and generate additional income, separate from the cattle they run on their land. In November 2015, they secured a contract with the Australian Government's Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and have since been generating carbon credits utilising the Savanna Fire Management Methodology.
Under the ERF methodology, various project types can generate Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) for their efforts to avoid or reduce emissions. The fire management method uses fire management techniques that reduce the risk of wildfires. The planned burnings occur in the early-dry season between January and July, aiming to reduce the frequency and intensity of uncontrolled late-dry season wildfires. Such wildfires commonly occur throughout the north of Queensland and other parts of Australia, such as the Northern Territory.
Mr Kingsley says fires sparked by lightning occur frequently every year. Without implementing controlled burns, there is the potential for significant damage not only to their property but also to the local flora and fauna. Intense wildfires are a reason for some wildlife to vanish from an area completely: the flames destroy the habitat, food sources and the breeding sites crucial for their survival. When a wildfire breaks out and gets out of control, the Kingsleys create fire breaks to mitigate its destructive impact. These breaks not only safeguard their own property, but also serve to shield neighbouring properties from the fire's spread.
At present, the ERF method serves as the only fire management method globally, though an international alternative that can be applied in other countries is under development by VERRA.
Specialised equipment and skills to do their job
Managing a vast property like Mt Mulgrave Station and performing savanna fire management activities requires a diverse set of skills and tools. The immense size of the property means that helicopters play a crucial role in its management: Howard Kingsley and his two sons all possess extensive experience as trained helicopter pilots, and their helicopters serve the unique dual purpose of mustering cattle across the property and carrying out controlled fire setting. To streamline this task, they recently purchased a Raindancer machine that sits in one of their helicopters and releases small capsules which emit sparks through a chemical reaction.
But it's not just an aerial task - the Kingsleys are often on the ground, too. In a smaller area, they use a drip torch to light spot fires within an area; this activity has a limited range and is quite labour-intensive, but it can be an effective tool in certain areas. Knowing which land areas to burn is a skill in itself, despite modern technology providing assistance. After decades of tending to their property, the Kingsleys have gained a detailed knowledge of every nook and cranny, and every river and hill on their property, which is a critical asset for this undertaking.