International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

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

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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