The West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project uses traditional fire management practices and scientific knowledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge

Wildfires in West Arnhem Land

The West Arnhem Land region covers more than 28 000 km2 of remote, biodiversity- and culturally-rich Aboriginal land adjoining Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

WALFA team members at Kabulwarnamyo in Arnhem Land, L-r: Brian Campion, CSIRO’s Jon Schatz, Kim Cameron and Charlie Brian

Prior to the commencement of the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project in 1997, huge wildfires swept across the landscape during the dry season each year. About 40 per cent of the region was burnt annually, with 32 per cent of the fires occurring in the late dry season.

These types of savanna fires make a significant contribution to the nation's accountable (methane and nitrous oxide) greenhouse gas emissions.

Our response

Strategic fire management

The WALFA project was developed to reduce the extent and severity of savanna wildfires, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The research underpinning it was the result of a a partnership between the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Indigenous ranger groups, Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas, the Northern Territory Government, Northern Land Council, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance and CSIRO.

Through this partnership Indigenous ranger groups are implementing strategic fire management across Western Arnhem Land during the early dry season to reduce the frequency of wildfires. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and so offsets emissions from the Liquefied Natural Gas plant at Wickham Point in Darwin.

Reducing fire frequency also protects biodiversity values and creates employment. CSIRO's role has been to help improve the understanding of how fire management affects fuel dynamics and greenhouse gas emissions.

The results

Reduced greehouse gas emissions

The WALFA project is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of over 100 000 tonnes of CO2 each year. The early dry-season burning practices that reduce wildfires are also helping to conserve the environmental and cultural values of the region.

In return, Darwin LNG is paying Indigenous fire managers around $1 million each year to provide this service. This funding is also bringing in new jobs and providing educational opportunities for those in the region.

In 2007, the WALFA partnership won the inaugural Eureka Prize for Innovative Solutions to Climate Change, and in 2011 was awarded the Banksia Foundation's Caring for Country Indigenous Award.

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