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
The incidence of destructive wildfires has been
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
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.
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.
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
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.