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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 21(3)

The influence of prescribed fire on the extent of wildfire in savanna landscapes of western Arnhem Land, Australia

Owen F. Price A D , Jeremy Russell-Smith B C and Felicity Watt B C

A Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental Management, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.
B Bushfires NT, PO Box 37346, Winnellie, NT 0821, Australia.
C Tropical Savannas Management Cooperative Research Centre, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: oprice@uow.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(3) 297-305 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF10079
Submitted: 16 July 2010  Accepted: 20 July 2011   Published: 3 January 2012


 
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Abstract

Fire regimes in many north Australian savanna regions are today characterised by frequent wildfires occurring in the latter part of the 7-month dry season. A fire management program instigated from 2005 over 24 000 km2 of biodiversity-rich Western Arnhem Land aims to reduce the area and severity of late dry-season fires, and associated greenhouse gas emissions, through targeted early dry-season prescribed burning. This study used fire history mapping derived mostly from Landsat imagery over the period 1990–2009 and statistical modelling to quantify the mitigation of late dry-season wildfire through prescribed burning. From 2005, there has been a reduction in mean annual total proportion burnt (from 38 to 30%), and particularly of late dry-season fires (from 29 to 12.5%). The slope of the relationship between the proportion of early-season prescribed fire and subsequent late dry-season wildfire was ~–1. This means that imposing prescribed early dry-season burning can substantially reduce late dry-season fire area, by direct one-to-one replacement. There is some evidence that the spatially strategic program has achieved even better mitigation than this. The observed reduction in late dry-season fire without concomitant increase in overall area burnt has important ecological and greenhouse gas emissions implications. This efficient mitigation of wildfire contrasts markedly with observations reported from temperate fire-prone forested systems.

Additional keywords: fire management, greenhouse gas emissions, Leverage, planned fire, unplanned fire.


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