Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Rangeland carbon – what’s happening in the outback?

[January 2015]

Extensive, land system-based soil sampling and vegetation measurements have been carried out across the Murchison and Pilbara regions of WA to estimate carbon stocks and study its distribution across the landscape.

These have been undertaken with a view to inform future carbon abatement programs in the form of ‘carbon sequestration’ storing organic carbon in vegetation and soil.

Whilst no one has made any money from this form of abatement in the WA rangelands yet, there is a lot of scientific work being done to underpin future sequestration projects that will assist pastoralist to manage and rehabilitate their properties.

For the last two years, Rangelands NRM has been undertaking this work under a major programme called Carbon Awareness, aimed at increasing the knowledge of carbon abatement, government policies and markets. Funded by the WA government Royalties for Regions Programme with in-kind support from collaborating pastoralists for on-ground activities, the program supports our vision for economically sustainable and ecologically healthy rangelands.

Senior Research Scientist at Rangelands NRM Dr Peter Russell said it is essential to recognise the pragmatic necessity to balance derivation of income from use of natural resources, including use in cultural and recreational pursuits and the maintenance of intact, functional ecosystems.

In the Murchison mulga country, detailed work has entailed the development of new techniques to enable relatively easy field estimation of carbon stocks in the vegetation and estimation by remote-sensing, an important step towards commercialising sequestration.

“These robust benchmark studies done prior to change implementation, provide fundamental information to those considering the bold new ‘Carbon World’,” Dr Russell said.

“Participation in carbon credit projects will take considerable courage and knowledge,” he said.

The ability to do so, however, could be the catalyst for major, necessary changes to land management such as multiple, integrated land use in the pastoral rangelands, to improve not only ecological health but to improve productivity, enterprise viability and wider social benefits.

Another strategy is ‘savannah burning’. This is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from grassland fires in the tropical north through the practise of early dry-season burning.  Several groups across northern Australia have already generated income from this form of carbon abatement.

For more information, contact Peter Russell.

Image: Sampling of ground organic matter (˜litter’) within a quadrat (1m2); litter is an important component of the above-ground biomass in a mulga woodland. Photo taken by Peter Russell at Yoweragabbie Station.