Sep 17, 2019People & Industry

The Indigenous Fire Management Program Offsetting Carbon

Indigenous people have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. Their management of otherwise uncontrolled late dry season fires encourages new growth, helps with hunting and protects important places and resources.

With a presence in Darwin through its LNG facility, ConocoPhillips began supporting the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project (WALFA). The initiative covers 28,282 square kilometres of West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory’s Top End, an area roughly the size of Belgium.

The WALFA project uses an innovative mix of customary Indigenous fire management techniques and contemporary technology to manage uncontrolled fires. Offering economic, environmentalsocial and cultural outcomes for local Indigenous community members, WALFA enables Traditional Owners and Countrymen to return to the land by providing sustainable employment opportunities. Each year, Indigenous ranger groups meet to plan the annual fire management program and carry out consultation on traditional lands.

Much of the project’s success has come from strategic early burning work, however rangers have also improved outcomes by fighting late dry season fires. In challenging terrain, helicopters are utilised to reach burn sites, with rangers then suppressing fires using back-burning techniques and rake-hoes.

As a result of this project, CO2 emissions released through wildfires are reduced, helping to also protect local wildlife. Since 2006, WALFA abatement has exceeded 2m tonnes of CO2e, and provide employment and fire management training to more than 200 Traditional Owners and rangers each year.

Several organisations are involved in WALFA’s administration and operations – these include the Northern Land Council, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Government who provide institutional and technical support through Northern Territory Bushfires. The operational success of WALFA relies on the important work of the following five ranger groups – Warddeken, Adjumarllal, Djelk, Mimal and Jawoyn.

In 2014, the WALFA project was formally recognised as an eligible offset program under the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative. In the Federal Government’s 2015 Emissions Reduction Fund abatement auctions, 33 Savannah burning projects from across Australia were successful in selling contracts for carbon abatement – all using methodology pioneered by WALFA.

You can watch a short documentary on the WALFA program below.

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