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New Indigenous protected areas announced in the Kimberley

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Gambanan, near One Arm Point in Australia’s northwest Kimberley region, was where Indigenous Traditional Owners and their guests gathered to celebrate the creation of the Bardi Jawi Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) across 354,867 hectares in late May.

Hundreds of people attended, including representatives from each of the thirteen Indigenous ranger groups in the Kimberley, to celebrate this momentous day for the Bardi Jawi rangers and their associated family groups. The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke was in attendance and Jenita Enevoldsen attended as the Wilderness Society’s representative.

The Bardi Jawi rangers are iconic to the Kimberley - they have been looking after 250 kilometres of coastline and the majority of the area covered by the IPA for many years. This IPA has been a long time coming - the Bardi Jawi groups have been spending a lot of time looking into the future and now have a plan to achieve their vision for their land and sea country.

The Kimberley Indigenous Conservation Estate to grow by 8 million hectares

In addition to the Bardi Jawi Indigenous Protected area, guests at Gambanan were treated with the announcement of the impending declarations of three more huge Kimberley IPAs: the Balanggarra IPA (across 2,415,724 hectares), Dambimangari IPA (2,639,405 hectares) and Wilinggin IPA (2,761,000 hectares).

Stretching across hundreds of miles of coastline from the Balanggarra and already declared Uunguu Indigenous Protected Areas in the North, to the Dambimangari and Bardi Jawi Indigenous Protected areas in the South and across to the basalt ranges and sandstone cliffs of Wilinggin IPA in the central north - these new IPAs combined make up just over 8 million hectares of country under the protection and management of its traditional custodians.

“These areas hold a multitude of rare and threatened species and some of the most incredible story places, rock art and cultural heritage sites,” said Peter Robertson, Western Australia State Coordinator for the Wilderness Society.

Ranger programs like the Bardi Jawi are funded to undertake crucial environmental services such as monitoring threatened species - including dugong and four species of marine turtle; studying seagrass meadows and managing fire, feral animals and weeds. All of this, in addition to the cultural heritage and visitor management undertaken by the rangers.

“These new IPAs will provide the kind of protection and management that these land and seascapes need by the people who know it the best,” said Mr Robertson.

“These new conservation management areas are already providing massive returns to Australia’s conservation effort through improved protection of ecosystems and cultural heritage and active management of fire, feral animals and public visitation.”

IPAs – the untold success story for Australia’s environment

Indigenous Protected Areas are a type of Protected Area that is managed to IUCN standards. The protected area is on land or sea owned by Indigenous Traditional Owners who, through a voluntary agreement with the Government, dedicate or declare the area as a protected and receive appropriate levels of funding to manage it for its cultural and natural values.

There are now 58 declared IPAs employing over 680 Indigenous rangers and protecting more than 51 million hectares of high conservation value wilderness across Australia. This includes the Southern Tanami IPA – Australia’s largest ever protected area (bigger than Tasmania). In fact, Australia’s two largest IPAs together make up 20% of all of Australia’s parks and reserves. See Map from the Federal Government Department here.

Not only are these new IPAs a success story for the environment, but they are providing positive social, cultural and economic futures ‘on country’ for Indigenous Australians – providing jobs, supporting stronger communities and creating thriving homelands.

A review in 2006 of the Indigenous Protected Area program found that IPAs are supporting economic participation on country, early childhood learning, school attendance and much more. [Ref: From Gilligan (2006); The Indigenous Protected Areas program - 2006 Evaluation.]

There are currently a number of consultation projects underway for future IPAs, including IPAs that cover existing Protected Areas such as National Parks.  These protected areas would provide for joint management of those parks, and stronger levels of protection for the IPA.

The Future

The Wilderness Society believes that the future of conservation in Australia will depend greatly on outcomes like this one, involving partnerships and agreements between Indigenous peoples, Government, not-for-profit groups and corporate Australia.

The Kimberley Land Council played a role in supporting this great outcome, as did PEW and The Nature Conservancy through funding and support to some of the IPA groups.

We congratulate and thank the Traditional Owners and their partners for this wonderful outcome for the Kimberley’s precious environment. It was a momentous day and we look forward to many more like it.