In Australia, Conserving Land and Tradition

For much of its recent history, the Fish River property has been a cattle station that, due to being isolated at the far northern end of Australia near the Daly River, carried very few cattle. Its remote location and lack of infrastructure made the commercial herding of livestock economically impractical, leaving intact some 450,000 acres (700 square miles) of northern Australia’s environmentally invaluable savannas.

It is here that the Conservancy has forged a new partnership that promises to conserve habitat for wildlife and provide sustainable livelihoods for people.

The Nature Conservancy and the Pew Charitable Trusts, through our joint Wild Australia program, worked with the Australian Government to help the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) purchase Fish River Station. The ILC — a statutory authority established to acquire and manage land to assist in delivering economic and cultural benefits to Indigenous people — will now work to turn ownership of Fish River over to the Traditional Owners of this country to manage it sustainably. Bolstered by training and support from the Conservancy, Indigenous rangers will lead this effort, which will provide sustainable livelihoods as well as lasting conservation results.

The purchase will have enormous benefits for Australia’s people and wildlife. By buying the land and returning it to the Indigenous peoples that have served as the Outback’s caretakers for millennia, we believe that we’ve found the best case scenario for an area that boasts extraordinary natural assets.

Those assets include nearly 600 species of plants; an array of threatened wildlife species, like the Gouldian finch, northern quoll and black-footed tree-rat (which is far cuter than it sounds); and extensive chunks savanna woodland, as well as important areas of monsoon rainforest, which is a scarce and valuable habitat type.

Crucially, Fish River Station is an important component of an expanding network of protected areas, called the Trans-Australia Eco-Link, which stretches from Australia’s Top End in the north to Spencer Gulf in the south. And the establishment of Fish River as conservation property has also inspired the Northern Territory government to make preliminary commitments toward setting aside adjacent lands as protected areas.

We’re already looking to apply the forward-thinking Fish River Station conservation model elsewhere in Australia, again in partnership with the ILC and the Australian Government. This project equips us with another innovative conservation tool that, like the Indigenous Protected Area, formally reunites Indigenous Australians with the lands that sustained their ancestors.

The purchase of Fish River Station has forged an effective new partnership that seeks to maintain the traditional practices that have guided this country’s evolution over thousands of years while embracing current approaches to culture, livelihoods, and conservation.

(First Image: Aerial view of Fish River Station, northern Australia. Image Credit: Tim Bond. Second Image: Gouldian finch Image Credit: Steve Murphy/AWC.

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  1. We are working hard to preserve the last remaining forest lands of the Umpqua Watershed in central Oregon, USA. Why don’t you guys help us? We are attempting to integrate human habitat with agro-ecosystems as a watershed management plan — emphasis on increasing the overall biodiversity of the region and restoring ruined forestlands and soils. We need your help, Nature Conservancy. Please tell us how this project and others like it now starting up in the western united states could possibly qualify for your REDD program or other kinds of assistance. We need to protect our valuable resources in the western united states as much as any other part of the world — many participants already own lands within environmentally critical areas. Many of the umpqua project participants are fourth generation small timberland owners. Please help us. Thank you. Jennie Miles 530-448-0949

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