International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
REVIEW

Prescribed burning: how can it work to conserve the things we value?

T. D. Penman A B C J , F. J. Christie B D , A. N. Andersen B E , R. A. Bradstock B C , G. J. Cary B F , M. K. Henderson G , O. Price C , C. Tran H , G. M. Wardle I , R. J. Williams E and A. York B D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Forest Science Centre, NSW Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 100, Beecroft, NSW 2119, Australia.

B Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, Level 5, 340 Albert Street, East Melbourne, VIC 3002, Australia.

C Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, Institute of Conservation Biology and Management, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

D Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne, Water Street, Creswick, VIC 3363, Australia.

E CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44 Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

F Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

G State Herbarium and Bioknowledge SA, Information, Science and Technology, Department for Environment and Heritage, PO Box 1047, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia.

H Griffith School of Environment, Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, QLD 4222, Australia.

I Institute of Wildlife Research and School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

J Corresponding author: tpenman@uow.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 20(6) 721-733 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF09131
Submitted: 12 November 2009  Accepted: 28 November 2010   Published: 1 September 2011

Abstract

Prescribed burning is a commonly applied management tool, and there has been considerable debate over the efficacy of its application. We review data relating to the effectiveness of prescribed burning in Australia. Specifically, we address two questions: (1) to what extent can fuel reduction burning reduce the risk of loss of human life and economic assets posed from wildfires? (2) To what extent can prescribed burning be used to reduce the risk of biodiversity loss? Data suggest that prescribed burning can achieve a reduction in the extent of wildfires; however, at such levels, the result is an overall increase in the total area of the landscape burnt. Simulation modelling indicates that fuel reduction has less influence than weather on the extent of unplanned fire. The need to incorporate ecological values into prescribed burning programmes is becoming increasingly important. Insufficient data are available to determine if existing programs have been successful. There are numerous factors that prevent the implementation of better prescribed burning practices; most relate to a lack of clearly defined, measurable objectives. An adaptive risk management framework combined with enhanced partnerships between scientists and fire-management agencies is necessary to ensure that ecological and fuel reduction objectives are achieved.

Additional keywords: adaptive management, biodiversity, ecological burning, fuel reduction burning.


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