Optimizing the spatial planning of prescribed burns to achieve multiple objectives in a fire-depende

Before joining the Green Fire Science lab, I was an honours student within the Wilson lab at UQ. The work from my project has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Ecology titled “Optimising the spatial planning of prescribed burns to achieve multiple objectives in a fire-dependent ecosystem.” We have developed a decision support tool that maximises burning for the often conflicting objectives of asset protection and conservation, while remaining within budget constraints. Our tool is incredibly flexible and may be manipulated to suit any fire-dependent ecosystem in which fire management is required.

Fire management is an important aspect of ensuring the safety of Australians living within fire-prone environments. It can be challenging due to many factors such as time and budget constraints, the possibility of a prescribed burn escaping, possible damage to the ecosystem from burning too frequently or not frequently enough, negative perceptions of the community, and sometimes conflicting objectives. While asset-protection is an essential fire management objective, fire is also applied to the environment to ensure the ecological integrity of fire-dependent ecosystems. Fire management objectives often involve meeting a quota of land to be burnt. Priority locations for burning are identified largely through evidence-based triage.

A more effective strategy than current asset protection burn regimes may be to implement a regime that reduces the overall fuel load of an ecosystem, through the implementation of a heterogeneous mosaic burn. While likely being more effective as an asset protection protocol, there may also be added benefits for biodiversity. Decision support tools can be used to optimise areas to implement a burn. Spatial analysis techniques are ever improving, and are capable of identifying priority areas for burning based on asset protection objectives and ecological concepts. Using the Dry Sclerophyll Forest ecosystem of the City of Gold Coast, our recent study has shown that is it possible to achieve good outcomes for multiple objectives (asset protection and biodiversity) without increasing annual budgets. Broader use of systematic decision-making may greatly improve management outcomes.

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