The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has just released a Strategic bushfire management plan for the Mallee and Murray Goulburn catchments and CEED research on fire history and biodiversity conservation has made an important contribution.
Victoria is one of the most fire-prone areas in the world. In past decades, bushfires have had devastating impacts on communities, the economy and the environment. This is the first strategic bushfire management plan for the Mallee- and Murray-Goulburn bushfire-risk-landscape, one of Victoria’s seven bushfire-risk landscapes. It uses a risk-based approach to planning for bushfire management, and seeks to pair local knowledge with world-leading bushfire simulation software, historical data and the best-available science to understand how bushfires behave.
Part of the science it has engaged with is a study led by CEED’s Dr Luke Kelly at the University of Melbourne. Kelly’s study applies what we know from fire histories to help conserve biodiversity.
“Our research helps us predict how planned burning influences risks to biodiversity,” says Kelly.
“We developed a method for determining the optimal fire history of a given area for biodiversity conservation by linking tools from three fields of research: species distribution modelling, composite indices of biodiversity, and decision science. By clearly defining fire management objectives based on the habitat requirements of fire-sensitive species in a community, this approach could be used to maximize biodiversity in fire-prone regions and nature reserves. This will allow land managers to consider the trade-off between protecting people and conserving wildlife when applying planned burning.”
The management strategy aims to keep native animal and plant populations healthy, while mitigating risks to life and property. The northern Mallee parks are some of the most intact areas of public land in Victoria and are home to many fire-sensitive plant and animal species, many of which are endangered.
The research provided an indication of how much area of vegetation in each post-fire growth stage is needed for healthy animal populations. Along with additional work produced by teams at University of Melbourne and La Trobe University, this study contributed to the development of Victoria’s fuel management strategy.
An important next step will be to predict the impact of bushfires on biodiversity under alternative scenarios of planned burning and climatic changes. In 2016, Kelly is leading an ARC Linkage Project with scientists from University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, and The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Kelly says “I’m very excited about this new project, our continuing partnerships with land managers and the solutions we are developing for managing fire and biodiversity.”
Picture: The mallee shrublands and woodlands of Victoria have a long history of bushfires. (Photo by Lauren Brown)