1788 fire

Before Christmas I had the privilege of attending a wonderful lecture by historian Bill Gammage at the University of Melbourne called “1788 fire” – a reference to the fire regime at the time of the first European settlers.

Bill Gammage's book "The Biggest Estate on Earth"

Bill Gammage's book "The Biggest Estate on Earth"

Bill gave an intriguing talk about how Aboriginal people maintained a fire regime that was woven into every fabric of life to produce an abundant and predictable bounty from a harsh and unpredictable environment.

Central to Bill’s thesis are the frequency of historical descriptions of early  Australia as ‘parklike’ – such as “appeared like plantations in a gentleman’s park”. When combined with constant references to Aboriginal fire in early records – “never known a serious bushfire caused by the blacks” – a picture emerges of a constant and universal management of the landscape by fire.

Bill described how this universal fire management was embedded in the law, in totems, and depended on a deep spiritual knowledge of the land. Aboriginal language records words for unburned green land, unburned land ready for burning, creeping fires, hot fires – English has no equivalents for these words. Bill explained the five key benefits of this regime: controlling fuel loads, maintaining diversity, maintaining balance, ensuring abundance and being able to locate resources conveniently and predictably.

It’s intriguing because it challenges our instinct about land clearance rates, stopping bushfires and promoting passive conservation in national parks. Where’s the balance?

And it’s interesting because we are now developing fire methodologies to reduce emissions from fire into the atmosphere – essentially trying to move back towards a 1788 fire regime, which Bill promotes. The savanna burning methodology a patchwork of small early season fires rather than a few big hot destructive fires. Market meets tradition?

What’s clear is that increasing our knowledge of 1788 fire will help us to understand current conditions of invasive people, plants and animals and losses of topsoil, native grasses and species. As Bill suggests, maybe then we will be able reconcile more frequent fire with species protection.

I’ve got Bill's book. Need to read more. More to follow.


Blue carbon blue moon?

The American Carbon Registry has approved the first blue carbon methodology - restoring wetland delta areas (blue carbon is just carbon in the water or the sea). 

Could blue carbon save the Louisiana coast? Source: Ecosystem Marketplace

Could blue carbon save the Louisiana coast? Source: Ecosystem Marketplace

Developed by Tierra Resources and Louisiana State University in the US, the methodology delivers recycled wastewaster to areas affected by saltwater intrusion to add nutrients and fresh water. The good stuff can then grow and increase the carbon stored in the water. The pilot project was near New Orleans and is important to help protect infrastructure in the delta area.

Perhaps California will pick up this methodology and give this sector a boost?

There are also other projects in Kenya and Costa Rica and Abu Dhabi

Here in Australia, blue carbon is a little bit blue moon - currently there is no technical working group to work up blue carbon methodologies nor any methodology funding dedicated towards blue carbon development.

This is a shame, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups could benefit enormously from blue carbon projects across the northern coastlines. 

Luckily, the CSIRO has started. The aim of this carbon cluster is to quantify the carbon that is stored in marine environments. And the Fisheries Research and Development Cooperation has already commissioned this coastal carbon report. The report notes the long storage times of blue carbon. Perhaps mangroves and sea grass could be the first blue methodologies in the CFI? Sea grass does have enormous potential - seagrass stores carbon 35 times faster than rainforests.

To go forward, we will have to get the settings right - including granting carbon tenures in the sea and counting these emissions in Australia's accounts - as well as getting working groups together.

But if we don't get cracking, we won't get there. 


CFI 18 month report card

The Australian Government has issued its 18 month report card on the CFI and the picture is upbeat: 70 projects, 20 methodologies, and a host of methodologies to roll out over the next year or so.

 CFI projects to date.  Source: Australian Government

A market emerging? Maybe. But we need to be realistic about the scheme's heavy reliance on landfill projects to this point - these projects mostly centre around capturing methane gas from waste sites. So far there are 46 landfill projects that have delivered 97 per cent of the credits.  This is not bad, just that it is easier for these projects to get going. But only 3 other projects have received credits so far.

How many Indigenous projects are there? One - Fish River, a savanna project, which has been issued credits (the project is held by the Indigenous Land Corporation, but all proceeds go towards managing the property and employing traditional owners). There are many other would be Indigenous projects in various stages of planning and implementation, mostly around savanna. While there are 10 other savanna projects, these all relate to one property which is not Indigenous owned.

We would like to focus on broadening the tools available for Indigenous landowners to include rangeland restoration and enrichment (bush foods). More suitable tools will mean more projects. The Government estimates a rangelands methodology may be available by the end of the year but there is no estimate for enrichment. A low rainfall savanna methodology may be available in early 2014.


Review: Identifying Opportunities for Aboriginal South Australians

The SA Government Department of Primary Industries and Regions SA has taken a step forward for Aboriginal carbon farming by releasing a report on Identifying Opportunities for Aboriginal South Australians. The report was made by Rural Solutions SA.

The report's main findings are that:

  • projects are most likely to be implemented when they support existing land management objectives
  • of 7 suitable activities, human induced regeneration is the activity with the highest potential
  • there is a need for further information and capacity building.

The report identifies 7 activities as suitable for broad application on Aboriginal land, including 3 on feral animals as well as soil carbon and patch burning.

Unfortunately, the report does not explain how it arrived at this conclusion. For example, the activity found with most potential, human induced regeneration (controlling ferals and weeds etc), may have high potential on 21,602,250 ha of Aboriginal land, but there is no analysis to support this. At present, there is only one regeneration methodology which is for forest regrowth only - it would be useful to know how much Aboriginal land this methodology would apply to. Rangelands regeneration would appear to have broader application in SA but this was not discussed and methodologies for this are still under development (AbCF is involved in developing).

On the other activities, a group is working on feral animal management, but none of ferals, soil carbon and patch burning currently have approved methodologies - patch burning does seem like a long shot in SA. The activity analysis in the report is limited.

The report lists a number of challenges to carbon farming and suggests sharing information at an Aboriginal leaders' forum as a way to move forward. Unfortunately, however, the report does not shed light on key issues such as Aboriginal land and forest property agreements and how projects could proceed on pastoral land given Crown ownership of carbon.

The report helpfully notes a number of things to think about and adds to the suite of information for Aboriginal carbon farmers that is becoming available - see our Online Resources for more.


Savanna meth 1.1 approved

second version of the savanna methodology was made in June 2013.

The second version tidies things up a bit and importantly updates the values in the burning efficiency table - the values are a little higher which means a few more credits may be achieved - definitely use 1.1 if you are going ahead! The new version also makes other adjustments including when the late dry season may be declared to start and updating the reporting requirements. This document compares the first version (1.0) with the second version (1.1).

Further work is ongoing for new savanna methodologies for lower rainfall and carbon storage - but these new meths are likely to take a couple of years or so to hit the books.

More information on savanna story is at savanna explained.



And now forest credits!

Hot on the heels of the savanna sale comes the first credits issued for a forestry project!

The Newmont Australia Reforestation Project in NSW and WA was issued credits by the Clean Energy Regulator on 3 June 2013. Note that projects can span across different areas in different states.

The Newmont project uses the Reforestation and Afforestation Methodology which calculates the amount of carbon credits by directly measuring trees in sample plots, rather than through the online CFI Reforestation Modelling Tool

The projects that have the best chance on Aboriginal land are savanna and sequestration (or carbon storage) projects such as rangelands (less cattle, more management), enrichment (bush foods and sequestration) and forestry. The credits from savanna and forestry this week show it is happening.


Vegetation fact sheets

The Australian Government has released 4 new fact sheets covering the different types of vegetation methodologies. The methodologies themselves can be very large documents and tricky to get a handle on so it's useful to get some clear information. The main differences in the vegetation methodologies so far are:

Your land situation will determine which methodology is best for you!