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

Modelling the potential for prescribed burning to mitigate carbon emissions from wildfires in fire-prone forests of Australia

R. A. Bradstock A B L , M. M. Boer B C K , G. J. Cary B D , O. F. Price A , R. J. Williams B E , D. Barrett F , G. Cook E , A. M. Gill B D , L. B. W. Hutley G , H. Keith D , S. W. Maier G , M. Meyer H , S. H. Roxburgh I and J. Russell-Smith J

A Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

B Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Vic. 3002, Australia.

C Ecosystems Research Group, School of Plant Biology M090, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

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

E CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship and CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, PMB 44 Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

F Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

G School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

H CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, Vic. 3195, Australia.

I CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship and CSIRO Ecosystems Sciences, GPO Box 284, ACT 2601, Australia.

J Bushfires NT, Winnellie, NT 0820, Australia.

K Present address: Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment – University of Western Sydney, Richmond, 2753 NSW, Australia.

L Corresponding author. Email: rossb@uow.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(6) 629-639 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF11023
Submitted: 9 February 2011  Accepted: 24 January 2012   Published: 5 July 2012

Abstract

Prescribed fire can potentially reduce carbon emissions from unplanned fires. This potential will differ among ecosystems owing to inherent differences in the efficacy of prescribed burning in reducing unplanned fire activity (or ‘leverage’, i.e. the reduction in area of unplanned fire per unit area of prescribed fire). In temperate eucalypt forests, prescribed burning leverage is relatively low and potential for mitigation of carbon emissions from unplanned fires via prescribed fire is potentially limited. Simulations of fire regimes accounting for non-linear patterns of fuel dynamics for three fuel types characteristic of eucalypt forests in south-eastern Australia supported this prediction. Estimated mean annual fuel consumption increased with diminishing leverage and increasing rate of prescribed burning, even though average fire intensity (prescribed and unplanned fires combined) decreased. The results indicated that use of prescribed burning in these temperate forests is unlikely to yield a net reduction in carbon emissions. Future increases in burning rates under climate change may increase emissions and reduce carbon sequestration. A more detailed understanding of the efficacy of prescribed burning and dynamics of combustible biomass pools is required to clarify the potential for mitigation of carbon emissions in temperate eucalypt forests and other ecosystems.

Additional keywords: Eucalyptus, fire management, fire regimes, fuel.


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