FIRE WITH FIRE – Capturing the story behind the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project
Since 2006, Darwin LNG has supported a carbon offset program known as the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project (WALFA). Through this project, Indigenous rangers in West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory have offset more than two million tonnes of C02e through early dry-season burning. This strategic approach helps to prevent devastating uncontrolled bushfires later in the year.
In addition to reducing emissions, WALFA has provided over 300 Indigenous jobs per year, conserved rainforest vegetation, protected local wildlife and rock art sites and enabled cultural aspects of land management to be passed down to younger generations.
Participating Indigenous rangers have created a revolution in land management by using traditional knowledge combined with modern technology. This success of this method is now seeing it duplicated across Australia and the world.
What is WALFA?
Indigenous people have been using fire to manage the landscape for thousands of years. Their management of otherwise uncontrolled late dry season fires encourages new growth, helps with hunting and protects important places and resources.
With a presence in Darwin through its LNG facility, ConocoPhillips began supporting the WALFA project – an initiative that comprises of 28,282 square kilometres of West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory’s Top End, an area roughly the size of Belgium.
The WALFA project uses an innovative mix of customary Indigenous fire management techniques and contemporary technology to manage uncontrolled fires. Offering economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes for local Indigenous community members, WALFA enables Traditional Owners and Countrymen to return to the land by providing sustainable employment opportunities. Each year, Indigenous ranger groups meet to plan the annual fire management program and carry out consultation on traditional lands.
Much of the project’s success has come from strategic early burning work, however rangers have also improved outcomes by fighting late dry season fires. In challenging terrain, helicopters are utilised to reach burn sites, with rangers then suppressing fires using back-burning techniques and rake-hoes.
"It is hard work to live out here in the bush and look after the country. Fighting bushfires is particularly hard work. But hard work is good, especially good for the young people” Nigel Gellar, Senior Ranger - Warddeken Land Management
As a result of this project, CO2 emissions released through wildfires are reduced, helping to also protect local wildlife. Since 2006, WALFA abatement has exceeded 2m tonnes of CO2e, and provide employment and fire management training to more than 200 Traditional Owners and rangers each year.
ConocoPhillips are committed to protecting the environment we share and are proud to support projects whose vision to uphold high environmental standards aligns with ours. We understand our actions today will not only provide the energy needed to drive economic growth and social wellbeing but also help to secure a stable and healthy environment for tomorrow. Participation in WALFA continues to provide the catalyst for socially-beneficial programs that also enhance the local community’s ability to realise their role in both managing the natural environment and maintaining cultural ties.
Several organisations are involved in WALFA’s administration and operations – these include the Northern Land Council, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance, Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Government who provide institutional and technical support through Northern Territory Bushfires. The operational success of WALFA relies on the important work of the following five ranger groups – Warddeken, Adjumarllal, Djelk, Mimal and Jawoyn.
In 2014, the WALFA project was formally recognised as an eligible offset program under the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative. In the Federal Government’s 2015 Emissions Reduction Fund abatement auctions, 33 Savannah burning projects from across Australia were successful in selling contracts for carbon abatement – all using methodology pioneered by WALFA.
We are proud of the achievements of WALFA in setting an example for a scientifically sound and genuinely collaborative project.