Is there an inherent conflict in managing wildfire for people and conservation?
Bentley, PD, & Penman, TD, 2017, International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 26, pp.455-468.
Wildfire poses threats to both biodiversity and humans. Management of fire faces the dilemma of whether to prioritise focus on humans or wildlife. The current study developed a fire simulation model to investigate how both objectives can be achieved, and found that increased burning treatment area helps reduced fire extent and burn probability, though with increased monetary cost.
Fire is an essential process in the ecosystem, as it helps maintain population viability of many fire-dependent species across the landscape. Changes in fire regime can have a significant influence on communities. Unfortunately, fire can also threaten human lives and properties, resulting in a central focus from a majority of fire management plans to reduce the risk of fire to humans rather than risk to wildlife or to preserve fire-dependent biodiversity. In this study, the authors simulated twelve different fire management scenarios developed by land management agencies to investigate which treatment strategies best meet the dual objectives of reducing risk to humans and fire-sensitive species, the koalas in Bega, New South Wales. Four indicators were considered in this study including wildfire size, relative burn probability, impact from wildfire, and cost of treatments.
Of the twelve scenarios, three were effective in reducing future fire extent and burn probability by increasing area of fuel load treatment blocks (where fuel is minimised or eliminated by planned burning), thus reducing threats from fire to both humans and koalas. The simulation also highlights the importance of the spatial arrangement of fuel treatment blocks in the landscape as it can influence the ability of the treatment blocks to reduce the rate of spread and fire intensity. For instance, ignition probabilities are lower if treatment blocks are located near roadways and human settlement or are away from lightning ridgelines. Similarly, if treatment blocks are located in the path of severe fire weather, the rate of spread of wildlife may be lowered.
Although increasing the area of treatment can help reduce burn probability and fire extent, simulations show that the impact of fire to humans and koalas are still high, and such strategy induces a significant financial cost. Therefore, the authors suggest management agencies adopt additional complementary approaches on top of planned burning and fuel reduction alone, such as mechanical fuel management (removal or thinning of fuel), ignition management (reduce number of ignition) and encourage an initial attack by the community through community engagement. Multiple approaches will not only help reduce the cost of management but also increase its effectiveness.
Summarised by Cherie Chan
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