Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Habitat Highways Save Animals from Fire

Credit: Andrés Castañeda

A hazard reduction burn is carried out in mallee vegetation. This is often labelled as “ecological fire management” but hazard reduction and ecosystem management need different burning approaches to protect species. Credit: Andrés Castañeda

By Annabel Smith

Fire can act in a similar way to habitat fragmentation and restrict the movement of animals across the landscape.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Following the “Black Saturday” wildfires in 2009, the Victorian Government introduced a 5% annual controlled burning target to the entire public estate in Victoria. The South Australian Government followed suit, also adopting a 5% controlled burning target for public land at high risk.

However, there is growing consensus among the scientific community that these policies will neither protect lives and property nor conserve biodiversity. There is no scientific justification for the 5% target.

To meet this target, burning programs often occur across large patches within nature reserves rather than focusing on fuel loads within 100–200 metres of houses. As a result, controlled burning will have little impact on housing losses during bushfire. Instead, sensitive ecological communities could be harmed.

Australia has a long history of fire, and many plants and animals are adapted to a particular frequency, intensity, size and timing of fire. This fact is often used to justify hazard reduction burning in nature reserves. Management agencies even state that hazard reduction burning not only protects lives and property but also conserves biodiversity.

Our research, however, suggests that this view is too simplistic. We found that fire can act in a similar way to habitat fragmentation, restricting the movement of animals across the landscape.
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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.