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Managing forest fuels using prescribed fire – A perspective from southern Australia

McCaw, W. Lachlan
Forest ecology and management 2013 v.294 pp. 217-224
adverse effects, biodiversity, case studies, combustion, ecological value, fire intensity, fire suppression, fires, forest types, fuels (fire ecology), labor force, land management, planning, prescribed burning, psychosocial factors, soil, statistics, wildland fire use, Australia
Prescribed fire has been used in a coordinated manner to manage fuels in eucalypt forests of southern Australia since the 1950s. The impetus for planned use of fire arose from the need to reduce the impact of extensive, high intensity fires on life, property and commercial forest values. Prescribed fire is increasingly recognised as also playing an important role in mitigating undesirable effects of high intensity fires on environmental values including soil, water and biodiversity. Critical elements for an effective prescribed fire program include a sound understanding of fire behaviour, an experienced and flexible workforce, and organisational commitment to adaptive management involving planning, monitoring and applied research. Implementation of prescribed fire programs has been closely linked with, and dependent upon, the development of burning guides for particular forest types through empirical field research. The contribution of prescribed fire to mitigating the effects of extensive, high intensity fires can be quantified in a variety of ways using basic combustion science, well-documented case studies, analysis of fire statistics, and simulation. Fuel reduction can improve the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of fire suppression, although these effects may be subtle and difficult to measure. Social and political factors can significantly influence the conduct and effectiveness of prescribed fire programs, and effective engagement with the community during planning, implementation and post-fire monitoring phases is essential to ensure that the role of prescribed fire in land management is properly recognised and understood.