Incentivizing sustainable fire management in Australia's northern arid spinifex grasslands

Cameron Yates, Jay Evans, Roland Vernooij, Tom Eames, Ed Muir, Jarrad Holmes, Andrew Edwards, Jeremy Russell-Smith

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Abstract

Fire management across Australia's fire-prone 1.2 M km2 northern savannas region has been transformed over the past decade supported by the inception of Australia's national regulated emissions reduction market in 2012. Today, incentivised fire management is undertaken over a quarter of that entire region, providing a range of socio-cultural, environmental, and economic benefits, including for remote Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) communities and enterprises. Building on those advances, here we explore the emissions abatement potential for expanding incentivised fire management opportunities to include a contiguous fire-prone region, extending to monsoonal but annually lower (<600 mm) and more variable rainfall conditions, supporting predominantly shrubby spinifex (Triodia) hummock grasslands characteristic of much of Australia's deserts and semi-arid rangelands. Adapting a standard methodological approach applied previously for assessing savanna emissions parameters, we first describe fire regime and associated climatic attributes for a proposed ∼850,000 km2 lower rainfall (600–350 mm MAR) focal region. Second, based on regional field assessments of seasonal fuel accumulation, combustion, burnt area patchiness, and accountable methane and nitrous oxide Emission Factor parameters, we find that significant emissions abatement is feasible for regional hummock grasslands. This applies specifically for more frequently burnt sites under higher rainfall conditions if substantial early dry season prescribed fire management is undertaken resulting in marked reduction in late dry season wildfires. The proposed Northern Arid Zone (NAZ) focal envelope is substantially under Indigenous land ownership and management, and in addition to reducing emissions impacts associated with recurrent extensive wildfires, development of commercial landscape-scale fire management opportunities would significantly support social, cultural and biodiversity management aspirations as promoted by Indigenous landowners. Combined with existing regulated savanna fire management regions, inclusion of the NAZ under existing legislated abatement methodologies would effectively provide incentivised fire management covering a quarter of Australia's landmass. This could complement an allied (non-carbon) accredited method valuing combined social, cultural and biodiversity outcomes from enhanced fire management of hummock grasslands. Although the management approach has potential application to other international fire-prone savanna grasslands, caution is required to ensure that such practice does not result in irreversible woody encroachment and undesirable habitat change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118384
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume344
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2023

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