Australia’s Northern Grasslands

Although grasslands store nearly as much carbon as forests, and their preservation is essential to limiting climate change, most people don’t realize how important grasslands are to our global community—whether we live in Hong Kong and fear rising seas, or in Australia’s northern grasslands where heavy pressures on these savannas threaten the traditional ways of life of indigenous people and ranchers. 70% of the world’s tropical grasslands have already been destroyed.

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To protect some of the world’s most important and intact remaining grasslands, both for carbon storage to fight climate change, plants and wildlife, and the traditional communities who depend on them, the Conservancy is taking action to preserve the grasslands of Northern Australia—today intensely threatened by development, bad ranching practices, fire, mining, and invasive species.

These dangers threaten to destroy the home of:

  • 460 bird species
  • 110 mammal species
  • 225 freshwater fish species
  • 40% of Australia’s reptiles

Unforeseen Consequences

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For more than 40,000 years, Aboriginal people lived in harmony with these grasslands, actively managing the land through controlled fire burns and sustainable natural resource use. But within the past 200 years, settlers arrived and began unsustainable ranching and mining, as well as inadvertently infecting indigenous people with diseases like small pox and, in some cases, wiping out entire tribal groups. All at once, these amazing grasslands were drastically altered, and this special landscape lost its caretakers.

Today, heavy pressure from ranching and poor land management in much of Australia’s northern grasslands continues:

  • Cattle are too great in numbers and are left on fields too long, stripping grasses and causing erosion. These large herds also spoil delicate freshwater sources, like rivers and wetlands.
  • Invasive species like foxes are eating defenseless native species, like birds and small marsupials. Australia suffers one of the highest mammal extinction rates in the world.
  • Fire suppression means more fuel for fires accumulates over time—resulting in much larger, more destructive fires. 

The Power of Partnerships

To solve these urgent problems, the Conservancy works with local Australian partners like the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Bush Heritage Foundation—at 100 million hectares, Northern Australia is too big for any one group to conserve it alone.

The Conservancy is providing guidance on how to minimize herd damage to fragile wetlands, and how to design grazing rotations that will help keep invasive plant species at bay, while protecting native grasses.

We are also helping local conservation partners acquire high priority private lands from willing sellers. We are sharing expertise on combating invasive species, and implementing science-guided fire programs that align with indigenous land use practices.

Along with partners, including PEW Charitable Trusts, we are providing funding and land management expertise to the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) program, an initiative by the Australian government to help indigenous peoples effectively conserve their land. With 25 IPAs covering more than 20 million hectares, supporting this initiative enables the Conservancy to affect conservation on a massive scale.