Wildlife Matters

Indigenous partnership model extended to help manage Wilinggin country

12 Jun. 2019
© Brad Leue/AWC

By Peter McKay, Northwest Regional Operations Manager

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation (WAC) have entered into an innovative and ambitious partnership to work collaboratively across 1.73 million hectares of the northwest Kimberley, enhancing conservation science and land management across a massive 4.3 million hectare conservation corridor.


In June 2004, following a struggle of over two decades, the High Court of Australia recognised the Wanjina- Wunggurr Community as the Traditional Owners of the Wanjina- Wunggurr Wilinggin Native Title Determination Area.

Ngarinyin Traditional Owners maintain a strong connection to Wilinggin country and continue to care for it. Wilinggin Rangers have been working with Ngarinyin Traditional Owners for over a decade to look after the natural and cultural values of the Wilinggin Indigenous Protected Area (IPA).

AWC and WAC will now collaborate in the management of this country, improving protection of an array of threatened species while generating sustainable income for WAC and important socio-economic benefits for Wilinggin Traditional Owners.

Wilinggin Mob Before Eco Burn 4 © Brad Leue/AWC
WAC Project Officer Lloyd Nulgit (far left), Wunggurr Rangers and Traditional Owners Kane Nenowatt and Robin Dann together with Traditional Owners and Incendiary Machine Operators Cassidy Charles, Michael Nulgit, Tyron Burgu and AWC Regional Fire Coordinator Toby Barton prior to the joint prescribed burning operation.

Wilinggin country dominates the central Kimberley plateau. The rugged and expansive sandstone and basalt ranges stand resolute against time – an example of the magnificent landscape cared for by the Ngarinyin people for around 50,000 years.

The major waterways of the Drysdale, Hann, King Edward, Durack, Moran, Roe, Mitchell, Calder, Isdell, Charnley and Chamberlain rivers carve through the sandstone, revealing the iconic rocky gorges and waterways that are such a prominent feature of the northwest Kimberley. The sandy banks lined with Melaleuca paperbarks, Freshwater Pandanus, Ficus and Grevillea form discrete riparian areas that typify the central plateaus of Wilinggin country.

New Map © AWC
The AWC/WAC partnership adds 1.73 million hectares to AWC’s conservation portfolio

This awe-inspiring country protects some of Australia’s rarest mammals, including the Black-footed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii), Monjon (Petrogale burbidgei), Scaly-tailed Possum (Wyulda squamicaudata), Golden-backed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys macrurus) and the Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). For many of these species, whose range once extended across northern Australia, this part of the Kimberley is their last remaining refuge.

Monjon Bachsten Camp Wilinggin Country 2 © Brad Leue/AWC
The Mojon (Petrogale burbidgei) is the smallest of the rock-wallabies and endemic to far northwest Kimberley. Picture taken on Wilinggin Country.

Remnant populations of threatened and endemic birds that are known from, or could potentially occur on Wilinggin country include the Black Grasswren (Amytornis housei), Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae), Northern Crested Shrike-tit (Falcun culus frontatus whitei), Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiates) and the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren (Malurus coronatus coronatus).

The Ngarinyin people are also custodians of two nationally significant fish species – the Barnett River Gudgeon (Hypseleotris kimberleyensis) that is only found in the Barnett River system and the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis microdon).

The WAC-AWC partnership

AWC is now working hand-in-hand with Wilinggin to deliver a science and land management program across the 1.73 million hectare collaboration area, consistent with the Wilinggin Healthy Country Plan. The WAC-AWC partnership was itself inspired by the successful partnership between AWC and the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) to help manage 800,000 hectares of Dambimangari land, adjacent to the Kimberley coast – an area of international significance for conservation.

The partnership is the largest science and land management program AWC is undertaking, and brings AWC’s model of management, partnership and collaboration in the Kimberley to 4.3 million hectares. It also expands the delivery of AWC’s prescribed burning program to 6.3 million hectares, the biggest non-government fire management program in the country.

AWC and Wilinggin Rangers will collaborate on the development and implementation of annual activity plans for ‘right way’ burning, biological surveys, and feral animal and weed control. Periodic reporting will track key metrics, such as the density of feral herbivores, the extent of weed infestations, and the success of prescribed burning regimes.

© Brad Leue/AWC
Regional Fire Coordinator Toby Barton and Wilinggin Ranger Cassidy Charles checking equipment for the planned burn.

Fire management is a critical element of the partnership. Effective prescribed burning (which aims to replicate Ngarinyin people’s traditional burning practises and limit the scale of late season wildfires) protects wildlife habitat and cultural sites, and generates carbon credits which can be sold annually by WAC.

In addition to carbon income, the project will deliver a range of other socio-economic and conservation outcomes:

  • AWC will make an annual contribution to WAC to help strengthen its organisational and governance capacity in order to ensure that Traditional Owners remain strong custodians of the natural and cultural values of their native title land, which are important to all Australians, recognising that Wilinggin Traditional Owners are choosing to manage their land in a way that protects and enhances conservation values;
  • On-the-job training will continue to be delivered to help build the capacity and expertise of Wilinggin Rangers and Traditional In turn, AWC staff will learn traditional knowledge from Wilinggin Rangers;
  • AWC and WAC will work together to develop culturally-appropriate and environmentally-sustainable business opportunities, and to leverage Government investment in Wilinggin activities;
  • The project will support Wilinggin in protecting cultural heritage (especially sacred sites and rock art) by aligning visits to remote areas for land management/science operations with cultural visits involving Traditional Owners when operationally feasible to do so;
  • The project aims to maintain/ increase populations of threatened species that are known to be on or could potentially occur on Wilinggin land, (e.g., Northern Quoll, Gouldian Finch, Kimberley Brush-tailed Phascogale, Brush- tailed Rabbit-rat and Black- footed Tree-rat);
  • The project aims to reduce the frequency and extent of late- season wildfires, to increase the amount and dispersal of long, unburnt vegetation (critical for wildlife in need of food and shelter); and
  • The project will remove feral animals and invasive weeds.
Tim Allard & Robin Dann Signing Of Partnership 1 © Brad Leue/AWC
AWC CEO Tim Allard and WAC Deputy Chair Robin Dann

The WAC-AWC partnership is vitally important. It will help protect a further 1.73 million hectares of the northwest Kimberley, enhancing conservation science and land management across 4.3 million hectares of priority land for conservation in an area that has suffered no animal extinctions since European settlement.

AWC’s role in helping to protect this globally significant area for conservation costs $1 per hectare per year.

Please consider making a tax- deductible gift to AWC in support of this landmark partnership.

Media enquiries: Joey Clarke | joey.clarke@australianwildlife.org | 0423 072 290

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