Indigenous carbon projects a slow burn for environment

·3-min read

When traditional owners moved away from their country in Western Arnhem Land there was no one to manage fire.

Gurrgoni man Dean Yibarbuk from Warddeken Land Management co-chairs the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network, and says after colonisation, wildfires burned out of control.

"For us, fire is a tool that we've been using for thousands of years," he said.

"But when the people moved out of the land because of colonisation, it was wildfire that took control of it.

"Fires were able to start on the eastern side of Arnhem Land and go all the way across Kakadu National Park."

For the past 20 years, Warddeken Land Management has been a key partner in developing the innovative technique of abating greenhouse gases produced by wildfires through a combination of traditional and modern fire management techniques.

By conducting prescribed burns in the early dry season and some fire suppression in the late dry season, the Warddeken Rangers are able to manage the timing, intensity and scale of wildfires, protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Yibarbuk is among the speakers at this week's National Indigenous Carbon Forum for First Nations groups to discuss the key issues emerging in the carbon industry.

The West Arnhem Land fire abatement project, which Warddeken was a part of, was the first savanna fire management project in Australia.

It began in 2006 as a collaboration between traditional owners, the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research at Charles Darwin University and the NT government, funding the work of five ranger groups over 2.8 million hectares.

Indigenous Carbon Industry Network chief executive Anna Boustead said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been at the forefront of the industry.

"However, our research over the last year has discovered that, unfortunately, there's very few Indigenous carbon projects outside the savanna fire management method," she said.

Network members are producing around 1.2 million carbon credits each year through 35 Indigenous-owned savanna fire management projects and two Indigenous-owned vegetation regeneration projects.

"All of those projects are really successful and and highly valued around the world because of the benefits they bring," Ms Boustead said.

"Not only in terms of the carbon credits, but also the benefits those projects bring to the community with protection of country and cultural sites and also the huge benefit in supporting self-determination because the projects are Indigenous owned and controlled."

Ms Boustead said there are a large number of carbon projects in development in which non-Indigenous companies approached traditional owner groups.

"So there's a really important, pressing, urgent need to support delivery of independent information to Indigenous groups," she said.

Mr Yibarbuk has seen the benefits of combining traditional knowledge with western science.

"Fire is important, it's also a spiritual connection with our land, with our peoples," he said.

"And it brings back our environment's life again.

"Animals, like wallabies and kangaroos and small mammals, can feed on the grasses again. Wildfires scare off small mammals and can affect areas where important birds live."

The West Arnhem Land fire abatement project is giving traditional owners an opportunity to live and work on country, while helping reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

"It is giving us the opportunity to bring those people back on the landscape once again, so we can look after the land where we are," Mr Yibarbuk said.

The National Indigenous Carbon Forum will be held online on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Attendance is limited to First Nations people, representatives of Indigenous organisations and invited guests.