The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.The Conservancy has been in Australia for more than 10 years. In that decade, we’ve made fantastic headway; as an organization, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to successfully protect Australia’s environment. 

Still, indigenous Australians have about, oh, 4,000 decades on us. It stands to reason, then, that they have a fair amount to teach us. 

The Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) — an exciting development that’s giving us a new way to conserve Australia’s rich natural and social legacies — is letting indigenous people do just that.

The IPA has become a hugely attractive model due to the effectiveness with which it can both protect enormous stretches of threatened lands and also provide people with stable, sustainable livelihood opportunities. Indigenous rangers are combining modern science with conservation lessons learned over a 40,000-year relationship with the land.

IPAs are parcels of land owned by indigenous Australians who have made agreements with the federal government to safeguard the area’s natural resources. In return, indigenous people can gain employment as IPA rangers and are able to live on and manage the land as their ancestors have for thousands of years.

The very first IPAs were established in the late 1990s, and what began as a pilot program has blossomed into an integral part of Australia’s conservation strategy. There are now 38 IPAs across Australia, and they account for over 23 percent of the country’s National Reserve System.

The Conservancy has long been an advocate for indigenous people to manage their own lands. In the past year, we have supported two new IPAs in northern Australia’s Arnhem Land — collectively, these IPAs protect more than 5 million acres of land. Indigenous rangers in these reserves are protecting vital grasslands, a number of unique plant and animal species and a number of ancient indigenous rock paintings.

Recently, in recognition of our efforts on behalf of the National Reserve System and far-reaching role in Australian conservation, Australia’s national parks authority, Parks Australia, invited the Conservancy to join the IPAs subcommittee of its Indigenous Advisory Committee. I was proud to attend the first meeting last week in Canberra. The two days I spent in the capital were among the most exciting I’ve experienced during my career in conservation.

IPAs place the stewardship of Australia back into the hands of the people that have preserved its natural wonders for thousands of years. We’re not just conserving Australia’s most vital landscapes; we’re conserving its people’s way of life.

Text by Michael Looker, Cool Green Science Blog

Related on MNN: Indigenous lands conserved in northern Australia

Australia: Here's to another 40,000 years
A new model for conservation in Australia protects important landscapes, provides jobs and keeps indigenous people in the role of managing their own lands.