Monday, 9 July 2012

Henbury Station: can conservation be financed with carbon markets?

In July 2011, R.M. Williams Agricultural Holdings (RMWAH) completed the purchase of Henbury Station, a pastoral lease south of Alice Springs. The purchase was partially funded by the Australian Government's Caring for our Country programme on the agreement that the 5,000km2 property, considered to have high biodiversity values, would be included in the National Reserve System. In agreeing to this, RMWAH will cease all cattle grazing and actively manage the property to control fire, water, weeds and feral animals, and support the regeneration of native vegetation.

To help generate funding for land management, RMWAH are engaging with the Carbon Farming Initiative. They are part of a group developing a methodology to measure carbon sequestration through human induced regeneration of native vegetation.  

The methodology will measure any increase in biomass of trees, shrubs, roots and dead wood following destocking and other land management interventions. Changes in soil carbon and grass biomass will not be considered in this methodology.

RMWAH Spokesperson Rebecca Pearse stated at a recent Carbon Farming Initiative workshop in Alice Springs that there are still many unknowns with the project, including how much carbon is currently in the trees and shrubs, how it will grow, and what price the company will get for non-Kyoto compliant carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market.

If approved, the methodology could be used by other rangeland managers looking to increase woody plant biomass (depending on the extent of the methodology e.g. what rainfall zones it applies to). RMWAH hope that others see Henbury as a case study and apply the methodology to parts of their property that are not used or are not productive to create an alternative source of income.  

There is no doubting that a case study is needed. There is real concern regarding: permanence requirements for sequestration projects (that carbon stored by CFI projects must be maintained for at least 100 years); risk of destruction by bushfire; and the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in arid environments. Additional diversification into tourism or other markets may be required.
An alternative proposal is increased sequestration into grasses and soil combined with low level cattle grazing. However, this type of methodology is likely to be more complicated and may be some years away.

Listen to Rebecca Pearse at the CFI workshop, Alice Springs, May 2012.

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