Systematic fire mapping is critical for fire management

The Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Project team has had a paper published online in Landscape and Urban Planning. The paper focuses on the importance of consistent fire mapping across bioregions, and gives insight into the fire regime of our study area: the Murray Mallee. The paper is the result of hundreds of hours that team members spent sitting in front of a computer, digitizing fire events from 1972 – 2006, across a region the size of Tasmania. This work was mind numbing, but important. As our study area crossed three states (Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia), there were inconsistencies in approaches to fire mapping between them, meaning we needed to start again from scratch. We required consistent fire mapping for modelling the influence of fire on fauna and flora. Poor quality fire maps would ultimately lead to poor quality models. fire map

By mapping the regional fire history, we also gained insights into the fire regime of mallee ecosystems. The most surprising finding was that only 3% of the entire region had burnt more than once since 1972. We regularly hear that large fires occur every 10 to 20 years in mallee, which had led some to think that any point in the landscape would burn this regularly. Rather, although large fires do occur regularly, the return interval for any given point is much, much longer.

Another outcome was the importance of thinking regionally when it comes to fire management. Looking at reserves in isolation can make it seem like there is an over-abundance of particular fire ages. However, reserves are often embedded in much larger swathes of vegetation, which may have a different age structure. Therefore, management at the scale of individual reserves could result in decisions that don’t align with the same goals at a regional scale. Therefore, fire management should ‘think regionally’.

If you would like a reprint, please email the lead author Sarah Avitabile (Sarah.Avitabile@latrobe.edu.au)

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