South east Arnhem Land fire abatement (SEALFA) project

Date: Nov 09, 2017

Publication Type: News

Subject: Caring for Country

Australia’s vast and ecologically intact northern tropical savannas are extremely flammable and recent fire regimes have been dominated by large, late dry season wildfires.

These hot, late dry season fires account
for 3-4 % of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, across northern Australia, ground breaking initiatives by Indigenous fire managers and their partners to reinstate traditional burning practices have demonstrated a significant reduction in carbon emissions along with highly valued social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits for Indigenous landowners. 

The South East Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (SEALFA) project uses strategic fire management activities to reduce the fire-generated emissions of greenhouse gas. The south east Arnhem Land region has had a recent history of severe late dry season wildfire covering many thousands of square kilometres. The SEALFA project applies strategic early dry season burning activities to reduce the total area that is burnt each year and to shift the seasonality of burning from late dry season to early dry season. This reduces emissions because the fires are less intense and burn less country each year.

The SEALFA project operates within the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). The SEAL IPA encompasses more than 18,000 km2 of Aboriginal freehold land within the Arnhem Land and Urapunga Aboriginal Land Trusts and is dedicated by its Traditional Aboriginal Owners as an IUCN Category VI Managed Resource Protected Area. A rich Indigenous culture persists across this landscape, home to more than 2000 Indigenous Australians whose traditional languages, knowledge, skills and culture it sustains. Traditional languages of the SEAL IPA are Ritharrngu, Rembarrnga and Nunggubuyu in the north, Ngalakgan and Ngandi in the central areas, Yukgul in the south and Wandarrang along the coast.

The SEAL IPA is managed by the Numbulwar Numburindi and Yugul Mangi rangers. These two Indigenous ranger groups hosted by the NLC annually implement a coordinated program of strategic early dry season burning throughout the project area. Each year, a combination of aerial prescribed burning (incendiary pellets dropped from helicopters) and finer-scale ground burning establish a mosaic of cool burns around and within the project area. In 2016, the first year fully operating their fire project, the Numbulwar Numburindi and Yugul Mangi rangers achieved an outstanding abatement result, reducing their baseline emissions by more than 35 per cent.