Australia’s Indigenous Protected Areas

Indigenous Protected Areas are one of Australia’s conservation success stories – protecting culture and country, while providing a pathway to meaningful jobs and positive health, education and social benefits. Today there are more than 55 Indigenous Protected Areas protecting more than 43 million hectares across Australia.

In the 1990s, the Australian Government, in cooperation with the states and territories, started building a National Reserve System – Australia’s nationwide network of parks, reserves and protected areas. At the same time there was a growing Indigenous land management movement, communities were establishing ranger programmes and engaging with governments on conservation issues.

The Indigenous Protected Area programme, established in 1997, built on these developments by providing a framework for Indigenous communities to voluntarily manage their land as part of the National Reserve System. The traditional owners of the Nantawarrina in South Australia declared their land as the Australia’s first Indigenous Protected Area in 1998.

Managed for conservation by Indigenous organisations on behalf of their traditional owners, Indigenous Protected Areas are an important innovation in protected area management. They also provide a solid foundation for developing partnerships with the Australian Government’s Indigenous Protected Areas and Working on Country programmes, not-for-profit agencies, research organisations and government protected areas.

Indigenous protected Areas help protect threatened species, link conservation areas together and contribute to the management of environmental threats such as wild fires, weeds and feral animals. Thanks to IPAs, many isolated protected areas are being linked together in wildlife corridors that include wetlands and riparian zones and voluntary agreements with landholders who have high-quality habitat on private land. This collaborative, whole-of-landscape approach to conserving biodiversity is also designed to help strengthen the resilience of Australia's native landscapes against climate change.

When Australia’s Indigenous people manage country, they don’t separate the cultural and natural landscapes. They manage both together – their culture is tied to the health of the land and its people. Indigenous rangers receive on-the-job training in areas such as conservation, tourism, law enforcement, business administration and indigenous leadership. They also work closely with community elders and environmental research partners to manage their land in a holistic way.

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