In late June, Natural Resources staff had the unique opportunity to travel to Queensland, Australia in order to learn from their Indigenous Land & Sea Ranger program – a program where the Queensland Government partners with Indigenous communities to care for land and sea country, provide jobs and training and engage future generations. Since 2014, we have been planning on implementing a similar program and we have gone to great lengths to learn from those who already have successful programs, like the Guardian Watchmen in British Columbia who we visited in 2016. So, thanks to grant funding provided by the Administration for Native Americans, Environmental Regulatory Enhancement grant, we were able to go and learn firsthand from the originators of this wonderful program, the Indigenous Land & Sea Rangers.
Megan Van Pelt, Natural Resources Director, Rosa Laucci, Marine Program Manager, Jaytuk Steinruck, Tribal Resources Specialist and Jennifer Jacobs, Fisheries Program Manager all set off for the long journey down under and arrived in Brisbane on June 16th. We were greeted by our Queensland Government hosts, Dave Wildermuth (Program Manager) and Chloe Jensen (Program Officer), when we landed and joined by Graham Keating (Team Leader) a couple of days later. As the days unfolded, we were given extensive background on the program and learned so much that we can incorporate into our own program.
The major difference between us is that the Queensland Government is the funding source for these ranger programs. The $11M per annum program, administered by the Department of Environment and Science (DES), assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organizations with grants to employ Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger teams. It delivers training, networking and partnership support for ranger groups.
Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers deliver negotiated work plans that reflect Traditional Owner, local community, and Queensland Government priorities. Their activities include a wide range of environmental and cultural heritage conservation and community engagement activities.
Conservation work can include feral animal and pest plant control, soil conservation, cultural heritage recording and protection, biodiversity and species monitoring and managed burns. Community engagement activities can include Junior Ranger activities, school based and other traineeships, support for disaster recovery and contributions to local community events. Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers are often Traditional Owners of the area on which they work and deliver conservation services that successfully combine methods drawn from both traditional knowledge and western science.
Rangers work in regional and remote communities across Queensland with groups based in twenty-three locations. We visited four of these ranger groups in Northern Queensland: the Laura Rangers, Yuku-Baja-Muliku Rangers, Yirrganydji Rangers, and Gudjuda Rangers.
The Laura Rangers are actively engaged in sustainable natural resource management practices to enhance the rich cultural and environmental values of the region. Some of the ranger’s achievements include:
✓ ongoing cultural site recording and management of the estimated 10,000 rock art sites in the Quinkan reserves
✓ protection of rock art images by clearing vegetation and annual cool burns to reduce fuel load and protect galleries from the flame and smoke of hot wildfire
✓ weed and feral animal management including cattle and pigs that sometimes shelter around the rock art
✓ special places are protected by animal exclusion fencing which the rangers construct and maintain
✓ biodiversity surveys
✓ water quality monitoring
In addition to being treated to their local art gallery where we were able to meet and talk with elders and artists, we were taken to the Yuku-Baja-Muliku (YBM) Ranger base (where they have a buoy tree, like ours) to see their Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and to the Annan River where we were shown their local freshwater mussels. The aim of the YBM Rangers is to ensure that Traditional Owners have the means to protect themselves, future generations and their culture through active, positive and physical connections to country and continuing access to traditional foods. Current projects include:
✓ Turtle Rescue & Monitoring
✓ Sea grass Monitoring
✓ Cultural Heritage
✓ Land & Sea Patrols
✓ Fire Management
✓ Weed & Feral Animal Control
YBM Rangers are constantly busy building capabilities and aspirations, inspiring others to return to country, and developing programs to ensure a strong ranger program for future generations. The ranger program provides real jobs, skill development, confidence building and instills a sense of pride. By focusing on land management they can start to diversify their income away from government grants and towards contracting services with National Parks, Council and other neighboring land-holding bodies, the development of ecosystem services, and developing tourism opportunities and infrastructure, such as campsites. YBM also has a Junior Ranger Program that emphasizes childrens’ ability to make a difference and to learn and appreciate their environment in an engaging, fun and exciting manner. The Junior Ranger program works together with a wide range of partners to reach as many youth, parents and the community as possible.