Fire Management

The mosaic produced by aerial and ground burning by rangers and traditional owners in the Tanami in the 2009-10 season

The CLC's fire management program is extremely important to the natural resource management of Central Australia. It now uses cutting-edge technology to tackle the vast workload involved in reducing the wildfire risk across Aboriginal lands in the region.

Background

Vast areas of relatively inaccessible land in Central Australia are at risk of large out-of-control summer bushfires that threaten Aboriginal communities and sites, native plants and animals and contribute to climate change.

Patch burning during the cool season has a long history in the CLC region. The technique reduces the number of dangerous summer fires and protects the region’s biodiversity. 

Since 2007, the CLC’s fire management program has provided planning, governance and on-ground support directly to groups of constituents and through its Aboriginal ranger groups. The program builds on their knowledge of country and fire management and enhances it through satellite images, fuel load mapping and aerial incendiary technology.

It protects communities and assets with finer-scale firebreaks and patch burns and works with properties adjoining Aboriginal land, Bushfires NT and other agencies to ensure burning is safe and legal.
The program creates opportunities for traditional owners to visit remote areas they could not otherwise reach. This keeps their connections with their country alive and allows them to share their knowledge with younger generations.

CLC ranger Wilemina JohnsonTraining

The CLC trains its rangers in firefighting and aerial incendiary operations through a certificate level course specialising in central Australian environments.

It works with Indigenous Protected Areas and ranger groups in neighbouring jurisdictions to deliver nationally accredited training for work around aircraft, especially helicopters, and aerial incendiary equipment.
CLC rangers use aerial incendiary machines during the cool months to burn high fuel areas under the guidance of senior traditional owners.

Rangers and other CLC land management staff take advantage of basic firefighting training by Bushfires NT at every opportunity.

Governance

The warlu and waru (fire) committees, two groups of senior Aboriginal people from across the Tanami and southwest tri-state (SA, WA, NT) regions, plan fire activities in their regions.

Each committee meets annually to review fire management and risks and devise an action plan for the year. The committees incorporate satellite imagery into their knowledge of country and draw on advice from Bushfires NT.

They are a strong voice for Aboriginal people and consider proposals by fire management agencies and researchers. The committees have decided to adopt aerial incendiary burning and to develop an annual planning calendar.

The fire management program also represents the CLC on the NT Bushfires Council and regional bushfires committees for the Alice Springs, Barkly and Savannah regions.

Download the Waru calendar (6MB)

Carbon Abatement

The CLC has helped traditional owners to set up the region’s first Aboriginal carbon abatement business, the Karlantijpa North Kurrawarra Nyura Mala Aboriginal Corporation.

The business operates on the Karlantijpa North Aboriginal Land Trust, a remote 300,000 hectare area at high bushfire risk in the far north of the CLC region.

The CLC rangers and traditional owners burn the area during the cool season and generate carbon credits calculated by subtracting the emissions from their low intensity fires from the estimated emissions of uncontrolled summer fires. The carbon credits fund more fire management work and country visits.

In April 2017, traditional owners and CLC rangers undertook the first cool season burn that earned carbon credits from the Emissions Reduction Fund. The corporation used this income to fund future burning trips.

This has become possible because the Clean Energy Regulator approved a low rainfall carbon abatement methodology in 2015 and the Commonwealth Department Environment’s Biodiversity Fund resourced the initial consultations and burning work.

Challenges

Much of the CLC’s fire work is funded by the Commonwealth’s Indigenous Protected Area and Working on Country programs, the Indigenous Land Corporation and grants from the Department of Environment and Energy and Territory Natural Resource Management. Ranger teams occasionally undertake fee-for-service fire protection work.

The sheer size, remoteness and inaccessibility of areas requiring fire management in Central Australia, the few people available to do the work and the scarcity of funding mean the CLC tries to take any opportunity to burn country.

This is especially important after high rainfall, when vast expanses of country needs to be burnt during the cooler months to prevent large bushfires later in the year. During these times the CLC ramps up its collaboration with Bushfires NT and neighbouring properties as funds permit.

Aerial incendiary burning, usually from a helicopter, is an efficient way to set fire to remote country, however the CLC is also exploring road maintenance and fixed-wing incendiary burning.

Communities without ranger teams or far from IPAs have even fewer resources for this work, however it is no less important to manage fire in and around these communities. The CLC is seeking support for these communities to improve fire safety and protect the surrounding environment.