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Fire Management

Rangers undertake fire management work in the West Arnhem region

Fire management is part of how Aboriginal people have looked after country for thousands of years in the Top End. Early dry season burning has created a variety of habitats including places that are very sensitive to fire like rainforest (jungle), cypress pine forest, sandstone heath and riparian areas along rivers and springs.

With the arrival of Europeans there were changes to Aboriginal people’s lifestyles and movements towards communities, missions and cattle stations. The practice of early dry season burning largely ceased and cultural knowledge about burning was lost.

Large late dry season wildfires lit by lightning or people burnt large areas of the Gulf, Arnhem Land and the western Top
End every year until quite recently. This has caused a lot of damage to cultural sites, bush tucker, plants and animals, cattle stations and community infrastructure.

Many animals including emus, small mammals, reptiles and some birds are still recovering from too many years of
late season fires and numbers of some of these animals are still very low across the Top End. In some areas, especially around towns and communities, country is still being burnt too frequently and not getting a chance to recover.

Most woodland areas should be burnt in the early dry season then rested for 2-3 years to allow plants and animals to recover and breed.

Rainforest areas including jungles, springs and riparian (river) areas should not be burnt at all. These areas
require careful firebreaks around them to protect the plants, animals and cultural values of these areas.

Fire Abatement

Early dry season burning which prevents the large amounts of smoke and carbon pollution from late dry season wildfiresis now recognised as a way of reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere and the rising temperature of the planet.

The Australian Government is currently drafting legislation to recognise savannah burning in the Top End under the Carbon Farming Initiative. In this scheme, companies that produce large amounts of carbon pollution or greenhouse gas will have to pay to offset this pollution through projects such as the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project (WALFA).

The WALFA Indigenous partnership comprises of:

  • The Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation
  • The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation
  • Warddeken Land Management
  • Mimal Rangers (hosted by NLC)
  • Adjumarlarl Rangers (hosted by NLC)

The WALFA partnership exemplifies the importance of collaboration at an extralarge landscape scale. The strength of
the partnerships lies in mutual respect and recognition of the strength and mutual benefit from collaboration: among
Indigenous groups and with non-Indigenous parties including Government, private enterprise and conservation philanthropy.

In its first year the WALFA project produced less than the target abatement of 100,000 tonnes CO2e. But over the five years 2006 to 2010 total abatement was more than 40% above target. In 2010, abatement was 210,232, more than double the annual target.