Savanna fire management could generate revenues to help save lions: Study

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Researchers explore the potential for fire management-based carbon-financing programmes to fill the funding gap and benefit degrading savanna ecosystems in Africa.

The Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) announced the publication of the scientific paper Savanna fire management can generate enough carbon revenue to help restore Africa’s rangelands and fill protected area funding gaps in the December issue of the journal One Earth.

The new study builds on a history of collaborative and independent research by BRI, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Soils for the Future, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) that has culminated in this paper, which quantifies the benefits of savanna fire management in Africa.

“It is critical to raise awareness about the untapped potential for carbon revenues that would support management of protected areas in Africa,” says Tim Tear, director of BRI’s Climate Change Program and lead author on the paper.

“This study provides the first credible estimates built on sound data and proven methodologies that clearly show the significant potential for substantial long-term economic and ecological benefits. Given the positive social and biodiversity impacts that come along for the ride, we can only hope that with greater understanding, more public and private investment will follow.”

Many savanna-dependent species in Africa, including large herbivores and apex predators, are at increasing risk of extinction.

Estimated costs of achieving effective management of protected areas in Africa where lions live could reach $2 billion annually.

The researchers explored the potential for fire management-based carbon-financing programs to fill this funding gap and benefit degrading savanna ecosystems.

Co-authors of this work have published related papers and their research is integrated in this new paper.

“These discussions started in 2012, and it’s exciting to see how good ideas can take hold and build momentum,” says Geoffrey Lipsett-Moore, carbon areas specialist for TNC Australia, co-author on this study, and lead author of the related study, Emissions mitigation opportunities for savanna countries from early dry season ire management.

“The many years of savanna fire management in northern Australia that has directly benefitted the Aboriginal communities provide a clear proof-of-concept that fire management-based carbon projects can work. We are hopeful that similar benefits may soon be possible in Africa.”

Of the 256 protected areas with lions reviewed in this study, 198 had potential for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction from fire management, encompassing a total area of nearly 1.1 million square km.

“Many protected areas in Africa are degraded or are at high risk of degrading in the very near future due to intense pressures from expanding human populations and resource extraction by local and international corporations,” says Peter Lindsey, director of WCN’s Lion Recovery Fund, co-author on this study.

The results of this collaborative work demonstrate that savanna burning methodologies could generate carbon revenues for many protected areas in Africa, and when they are combined with soil and woody carbon pools the potential is significantly greater.

“Most carbon projects do not consider that they could be getting additional credits by adding in activities of other methodologies, like managing fire, that remove greenhouse gases to different carbon pools. These possibilities represent missed opportunities to increase the value of land from a carbon credit perspective,” says Mark Ritchie, co-author on this study, founder of Soils for the Future.

“African savannas are rarely thought of in terms of their carbon value, but it is time they should be,” says Luke Hunter, a co-author and executive director of the WCS Big Cats Program.

“The simple step of shifting when savanna fires are set triggers a chain reaction of positive, self-reinforcing impacts — healthier, richer landscapes, more lions and their prey, and less carbon released to the atmosphere. If rich countries pay for locking away that carbon, we could generate the essential financing that would help protect these magnificent places and support the communities that live in and around them.”

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