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WALFA-West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project

The West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project was the first Savanna Fire Management project using traditional fire management practices together with  scientific knowledge and research to better control the extent and severity of savanna wildfires and thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The WALFA project, operating on over 28,000 km2 of remote, biodiversity- and culturally-rich Aboriginal-owned land that is adjoining the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, has been developed since 1996 to address chronic fire management problems in savanna landscapes of western Arnhem Land. In particular, the essential problem has involved extensive impact of annual wildfires occurring late in the seven month dry season period; over the ten-year pre-project baseline period the 28,000 km2 WALFA region was burnt ~40% on average, with 32% of this annual average occurring in the late dry season. Nearly the entire amount of this burning has been attributable to human (anthropogenic) ignitions. In the case of WALFA, such fire management practice (burning throughout the year, typically under prescribed conditions) was undertaken extensively by Aboriginal people before societal collapse and associated abandonment of traditional practices with the advent of European settlement.

To reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, key objectives of the project have been to

  • substantially increase the extent of early season burning using strategically prescribed fires, so as to
  • manage for and limit the extent of late season fires, and thereby
  • reduce overall both the area and amount of fuels which are burnt.

West Arnhem Fire Management Agreement (WAFMA)

In 2006 The West Arnhem Fire Management Agreement (WAFMA) was brokered by the area's Traditional Owners, the Northern Territory Government, the Northern Land Council, Tropical Savannas CRC and ConocoPhillips to offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions generated at ConocoPhillips’ liquefied natural gas plant in Darwin Harbour. This agreement recognises the significant greenhouse gas abatement achieved through savanna fire management carried out by Indigenous ranger groups, and for a period of 17 years, ConocoPhillips pays around $1million a year to the WAFMA project to provide this fire management service.

Banksia Award 2011

In October 2011, the WALFA partnership was awarded the Caring for Country Indigenous Award at the Banksia Award ceremony in Sydney. In accepting the Banksia Award, known widely as Australia's 'environmental Oscars', on behalf of five Indigenous ranger groups, Dean Yibarbuk, a director of Warddeken Land Management, said, "The use of two toolboxes - one based on Indigenous tradition and the other with roots in science - allowed us to bring wildfire back under control in western and central Arnhem Land."
 
The project set an annual target of 100,000 tonnes of Co2 abatement but in the five years to 2010 it actually abated 707,000 tonnes - a 140% result against the target!
 
Go to the Media Release and read the submission extract

For more information go to the Tropical Savannas CRC website

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The West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) partnership was awarded the Caring for Country Indigenous Award at the Bank