What's been achieved?

While funding was not finally secured until 2006, wildfire control in the West Arnhem Plateau formally commenced  in 2005 and in the three ensuing years to 2007 remarkable progress has been made. 

 

The incidence of destructive wildfires has been reduced

The impact of the project in reducing wildfires can be seen in these satellite images of fire-scars (or blackened country) from the last few years. Green scars are from fires in the early to mid dry season (April – August) and are often from prescribed burns to reduce fuel. Orange scars are from fires in the late dry season (September – December) and are often from destructive wildfires.

The Image below left is from 2004, the year before the project started, when the region was swept by large wildfires entering from all sides. The map, based on satellite images, shows the extent of these late dry season, typically intense fires in orange. Only a limited number of early, cooler fire-breaks (green) were implemented in 2004 and did little to stem the fires. The image on the right shows the situation in 2005 when initial WALFA funding allowed more fire breaks (in green) to be put in. These breaks successfully pulled up wildfires coming from the east.

  WALFA 2004 Fires web WALFA 2005 Fires web

By 2006 the satellite mapping, shown below, indicates that more extensive fire breaks were put in (green patches). These stopped wildfires (orange) coming in from the east, however, slow-moving fires from the west did burn a western portion of the plateau. Nevertheless, large amounts of country remained unburnt.

WALFA 2006 Fires web

 In 2007 and 2008 shown below, techniques were improved and very extensive fire breaks and patch burns were implemented (green patches) and few late season fires (orange) penetrated into the plateau.

WALFA 2007 Fires web

Walfa 2008 fire scars

The level of wildfire abatement achieved to date is likely to lead to reduced impacts on biodiversity, and indigenous cultural values. There is mounting evidence that patchy, more traditional fire regimes are likely to have far less impact on biodiversity (particularly long-lived obligate seeding plants, such as Cypress Pine, Callitris intratropica) than the frequent intense wildfires experienced in West Arnhem Land in recent decades. Similarly, reducing the frequency of wildfires will better protect globally significant rock-art and bush-tucker resources.

 

Greenhouse gases have been abated

Due to the success in reducing wildfire, in the first four years of operation total Greenhouse Gases equivalent to 488,000 tonnes of CO2 have been abated* (relative to the baseline average emissions 1995-2004) – around 20% ahead of the agreed target of 100,000 tonnes abatement per year. .

*Note that only emissions of methane and nitrous oxides are counted here as under current Kyoto rules savanna fires are not considered to ne net emitters of CO2 (see section on greenhouse gases and fire above).

 

Indigenous communities have been strengthened

The project is now employing around 30 Indigenous fire managers. The local Indigenous communities are also benefiting from other activities enabled by the project:

  • a number of clan groups are now returning to country and some of these are considering future management possibilities including formally recognised protected areas;
  • senior elders are now imparting traditional knowledge to younger people whose families have been off country for a long time and indigenous children are being exposed to indigenous rangers and western scientists encouraging the study of western science at school which incorporated into traditional knowledge lends this new generation of scientists two “tool kits”;
  • Indigenous knowledge conservation programs collaborating with groups such as researchers from ANU and Melbourne University;
  • Indigenous workers’ and landowners’ English language skills are being improved through working with scientists and other non-Aboriginal staff – this  work is building cross-cultural confidence that is essential if economic opportunity in the area is to be taken up by Aboriginal people;
  • the Manwurrk Ranger group has formed Warddeken Land Management Pty Ltd, a cultural and natural resource management organization that aims to conserve and manage the plateau and generate income through these activities; and
  • the on-ground fire management has involved the collaboration of a number of indigenous ranger groups from across western Arnhem Land which is already leading to improved social coordination with regular meetings involving all these groups.