[Update to EMR feature: Moorcroft, Heather, Emma Ignjic, Stuart Cowell, John Goonack, Sylvester Mangolomara, Janet Oobagooma, Regina Karadada, Dianna Williams and Neil Waina (2012) Conservation planning in a cross‐cultural context: the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia, Ecological Management & Restoration, 13:1, 16-25. See https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00629.xk]
Key words: conservation planning, participatory conservation, Indigenous people, Kimberley
Introduction. The development of the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan (HCP) was a key enabler for Wunambal Gaambera people to look after country (Fig 1) and occurred at an important time when native title rights to country were being secured. The plan came about through a partnership between Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) and Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), who brought the planning approach and supported WGAC to develop a plan that met the needs of Traditional Owners. This plan then became the basis of a long term partnership between the two organisations to support implementation.
Healthy Country Planning, a term coined by this project, adapted the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (http://cmp-openstandards.org/ ) to an Indigenous native title community context. The approach has subsequently flourished in Australia, adopted by a further 30 indigenous groups ( see doi: 10.1111/emr.12267).
The unique partnership model established between BHA and WGAC, underpinned by Healthy Country Planning, has also expanded (https://www.bushheritage.org.au/what-we-do/aboriginal-partnerships). The program supports indigenous partners to achieve their community and conservation aspirations articulated through Healthy Country Planning.
Conservation planning with a difference. Our experience has been that the Open Standards can be successfully applied to an Indigenous context but some important adaptation is required. For example:
- People, culture and country are inseparable in Australian indigenous worldviews. As such, Healthy Country Planning is much wider in scope than mainstream conservation or natural resource management planning. The vision in the HCP typically sets long-term goals that include aspirations for looking after country and achieving health conditions for landscapes, seascapes, plants and animals, as well as for people and culture (Figs 2-4). These outcomes are collectively referred to as “Healthy Country”. An indigenous plan will always recognize and value people in the landscape rather than as separate. Traditional Owners, and/or their culture, become a conservation target alongside species and habitats with ‘key cultural attributes’ established alongside ‘key ecological attributes’. HCPs also have a greater degree of management strategies that relate to people and culture than would be found in mainstream management plans, and culture and Indigenous Knowledge is incorporated into land management activities that could be considered mainstream, such as the inclusion of cultural rules within visitor management.
- The Open Standards include approaches and tools for stakeholder participation that lend themselves well to Indigenous peoples, however given that Indigenous lands are communally-owned and governed by unique law and culture systems, participation requirements are higher and more complex. Traditional systems of governance are often recognized under State and Federal Law (such as the Native Title Act) requiring additional process steps. In developing the HCP, WGAC undertook a process of involving all Traditional Owner families in various stages of planning and the plan was authorized at a Traditional Owner meeting.
- A Healthy Country Plan typically applies to the whole traditional estate of a Traditional Owner group regardless of tenure, consistent with the concept of “Country-based Planning”. WGAC initially dedicated stage I of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area over several aboriginal reserves in 2010, and later added exclusive possession lands following native title determination. The marine environment will also be added to the IPA once agreement is reached with State and Commonwealth Governments, as articulated in the Uunguu Wundaagu Plan.
Monitoring & evaluation since 2012. Aspects of the monitoring and evaluation framework established by WGAC include the establishment of the Uunguu Monitoring & Evaluation Committee (UMEC) and the completion of mid-term evaluation of the HCP (see 2017 review doi:10.1111/emr.12257). The UMEC is composed of Traditional Owners and external experts who undertake key Healthy Country Planning steps and functions. A significant investment of time and money was required to support annual or biennial meetings “on country” (ie. on Wunambal Gaambera lands), however the review showed that the investment has proven worthwhile because WGAC has been able to implement the plan to a high degree.
In 2015 a major mid-term evaluation was undertaken to assess the progress of the HCP. It utilized some standard evaluation tools examining Open Standards process. It also incorporated some new approaches to include the views of the wider Traditional Owner community in the evaluation of the plan to ensure the plan was meeting their needs and following effective process with regard to governance and participation. The review made a number of observations as follows.
- Considerable progress had been made in the implementation of fire management strategies in the HCP to the point that the health condition of the “Right Way Fire” target was changed from ‘fair’ to ‘good’. Unmanaged wildfires have significantly reduced in size as a result of increased capabilities of the Uunguu Rangers to undertake burning. At the same time “right way” cultural principles have been incorporated into operations to ensure that Traditional Owner families are making decisions about burning and undertaking fire operations on their family areas.
- Significant progress has been made against a visitor management strategy. One of the key concerns of elders when developing the plan was unregulated visitation to important cultural sites by the expedition cruise industry and independent travelers. The Uunguu Visitor Pass, launched in 2017, requires visitors to obtain a permit to access authorized visitor locations as well as generating funds for looking after country. Over 90% of commercial tour operators have now registered for the UVP, with a similar independent traveler compliance, generating funds to support Traditional Owner participation in visitor management and delivering tour products.
- Progress was not made, however, in the health of cultural targets in the plan. As a result, the 2015 review recommended further investment and effort in culture strategies. Two important books have been completed to document elders’ knowledge of biodiversity and cultural places. There has been an increase in cultural activities including language and corroboree dance workshops and annual culture camps for school children. Law and culture dictates that visitors to country (indigenous or non-indigenous) need to be accompanied by the right local Traditional Owners when undertaking activities on country. In this way Healthy Country work supports large numbers of Traditional Owners to visit country and guide participation in the implementation of the plan. A number of actions have been undertaken to support Traditional Owners to live on country and remote ranger infrastructure has been developed.
Future Directions. The first 8 years of the HCP implementation has focused on building WGAC’s land and sea management capacity and resources, with funding from WGAC, the Australian Governments Indigenous Protected Area and Indigenous Ranger Programs and from Bush Heritage Australia. Traditional Owners currently hold certificate level roles of rangers, tourism workers and construction workers but further work is now needed to support Traditional Owners to take on roles that require higher levels of training. There is also a need to support the development of a wider range of livelihoods to support Traditional Owners to live and/or work on country.
Contact information. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, PMB 16 Kalumburu via Wyndham WA 6740, Australia.