Linking with Indigenous communities for conservation

The coming decades are going to see Australia’s indigenous owners having much greater control over what happens on their country. Indigenous protected areas, for example, place land management firmly into the hands of the indigenous owners, creating stronger links to country and generating meaningful employment in remote areas. Indigenous protected areas are expanding rapidly. There are currently 72 of them across Australia representing 65 million hectares, 9% of the mainland Australia and 45% of the national reserve system. They still represent a small proportion of Australia’s vast indigenous estate. While Aboriginal people have been managing country for millennia, they are now being asked to do so with the additional complexity of having to balance socio-economic needs in a global economy. These are complex decisions.

The School of BioSciences contains some of the world leaders in conservation planning and decision theory. We have a proven track record of finding out what land managers want, and helping them work out how best to get there. This approach and track record can bring immense benefits when brought to bear on land-use planning such as is required for Indigenous Protected Areas. We have begun collaborations with indigenous communities (for example, on the Tiwi Islands) to integrate indigenous knowledge with scientific methods, by combining predictive modelling with monitoring programs led by indigenous rangers. This work can facilitate social, economic and environmental benefits for indigenous people, and also build their capacity for natural resource planning. This is great work that could be rapidly expanded with an increased funding base.

Photo credit: Anja Skroblin