Landmark Agreements Conserve Indigenous Treasures in Northern Australia

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The Australian Federal Government and traditional landowners signed the first of two agreements today establishing two immense and globally significant conservation reserves on indigenous lands in the Northern Territory of Australia. The second agreement will be signed tomorrow on-site.

Known as the Djelk and Warddeken Indigenous Protected Areas, the reserves are located in Western and Central Arnhem Land about 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Darwin, and spans 20,432 square kilometers (7,889 square miles), more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

The reserves stretch from the high country of the Western Arnhem Land Plateau to the islands off the Northern Territory coast, and include sandstone gorges, pristine rivers, tropical savannah, and coastal wetlands. The area is of global significance for its natural and cultural values.  

Under the new agreements, traditional landowners will continue to manage the reserves and will be assisted by the indigenous ranger organisations, Djelk Rangers and the Warddeken Manwurrk Rangers. The declarations will formalize and consolidate the more than 10 years of work to manage and protect their lands to international standards.  

The declaration follows several years of consultation with members of more than 137 indigenous clans in the region and the development of detailed management plans. A core part of these plans is the re-introduction of traditional burning practices that have been found to cut greenhouse gas emissions by preventing large uncontrolled bushfires. Other management approaches include control of feral animals, particularly buffalo, which cause serious damage to the region's wetlands.

Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy have applauded the actions of the traditional landowners, the Australian Government, and the Djelk and Warddeken Manwurrk Ranger groups in protecting and managing this area. 

“This is a major milestone for conservation in Australia. The region has remarkable natural and cultural value, including dozens of locally endemic plants and unique animals found no where else on Earth, thousands of rock art sites dating back 50,000 years, and spectacular scenery,” said Dr. Michael Looker, Director, Australia Program, The Nature Conservancy.

“All Australians owe a great debt of gratitude to the people of Western and Central Arnhem Land for caring for this jewel of Australia's heritage,” said Barry Traill, Director, Wild Australia Program, speaking on behalf of the Pew Environment Group.

“We are honored to support the landowners, and the Djelk and Warddeken rangers in their management of the new reserve. We hope to continue to do so as they work with a range of partners to secure long-term funding for looking after this extraordinary area,” Looker concluded.

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