Biodiversity publications archive

Biodiversity and Fire: The effects and effectiveness of fire management

Proceedings of the conference held 8-9 October 1994, Footscray, Melbourne
Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 8

Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996

20. Developing fire management planning and monitoring

Mike Wouters
c/- Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Victoria

20.1 Abstract

The role of fire in land and natural resources management and the attitudes of the community to it, are changing. The concept of fire as being essentially bad and fire management as being dominated by protection from wildfire, is being tempered with increasing consideration given to the ecological importance of fire. As a result, fire management planning on public land in Victoria continues to be refined.

Fire management planning needs to perform three principal functions:

To achieve this, CNR uses several levels of management planning: a strategic Fire Protection Plan (currently called a Regional Fire Protection Plan), and where significant non-protective fire management objectives exist, a local Fire Management Plan (or sub-Plan), which details the integration of protective and non-protective (ecological, silvicultural etc) fire regimes at the local level.

A Regional Fire Protection Plan is the strategy plan which sets out the fire protection objectives and the strategies for achieving these. The preparation process for these strategic plans provides considerable opportunity for input from both CNR specialists and the public to ensure that other land management objectives are considered in their formulation.

Other land management objectives and strategies than fire protection, such as vegetation and fauna conservation, can require the variation of fire regimes, including fire exclusion. These in turn are set out in Park Management Plans, Flora and Fauna Guarantee Action Statements and Species Recovery Plans. Where these are clearly defined, a local Fire Management Plan may be needed to detail specific fire regimes for a particular locality or vegetation type. An example of a local plan is the Fire Management Plan for Coastal Heathlands in Far East Gippsland, which sets out the fire management required to maintain the ecology of coastal heathland.

If the ecosystems that are currently present in our fire-prone forests and reserves are to be maintained then the some active vegetation management involving fire is imperative; management should be seeking to maintain the natural role of fire as an ecological process in vegetation communities and fauna habitats. Reasons for active management may include restoration, regeneration or maintenance of a particular vegetation community; manipulation of conditions for particular species, and maximising diversity by maintaining a balance in the age distribution of particular vegetation communities. In fire-prone communities, diversity means maintaining a range of ages since fire, including recently burnt areas, "long unburnt" areas, and areas with a range of ages in between.

Monitoring, particularly in association with prescribed burning operations, is an important part of any fire management program, and is also desirable following wildfires and some other fire management activities. Monitoring is a feedback mechanism which helps to assess the efficacy of management techniques, and which provides the basis for developing improvements or alternatives to those techniques. Monitoring needs to target specific management needs, and evaluates specific objectives and techniques, rather than being a process which gathers information in general. Monitoring for fire management can include evaluation of achievement of objectives; the effects of fire management activities on environmental values, and the conduct and cost of fire management operations.

The approach taken to fire management planning by CNR in meeting its obligations to manage fire on Victoria's public land is becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental effects of fire and fire exclusion.

Key words: fire management planning, codes of practice, strategy plans, local management plans

20.2 Introduction

The role of fire in land and natural resource management, and the attitudes of the community to it, are changing. The concept of fire as being essentially bad and fire management as being dominated by protection from wildfire is also altering, with increasing consideration being given to ecological aspects. As a result, fire management planning on public land in Victoria continues to be refined.

20.3 Fire planning in CNR

Planning in land management is a large and complex process, and inevitably a hierarchy of plans is needed to meet these needs. The planning hierarchy used by CNR begins with a level of broad policy and strategies, these set out the directions and guidelines for action across the State and call for the preparation of codes of practice to outline statewide standards and prescriptions for the conduct of management and operations. More detailed strategy plans and statements document the strategies for a specific area or aspect (e.g. a District or a specific species) of management (Department of Conservation and Environment 1988). These second level plans may call for more detailed plans, usually for a specific area and specific field of responsibility; these are known as area management plans. From these area plans, annual programs of works are then put together to detail how the budget or achievements allocated for that particular function or area are to be achieved. Job plans for individual projects which specify the actions required of works crews are the final level of planning and the major vehicle for implementation.

Fire management planning needs to perform three principal functions:

Fire management planning must also recognise the limitations in available information and be sufficiently flexible to allow for the integration of additional information into fire management when it becomes available.

Planning for fire management fits into the CNR planning hierarchy as illustrated in Figure 20.1. It includes a strategic Fire Protection Plan; and where significant non protection fire management objectives exist, a local Fire Management Plan (or SubPlan). The latter details the integration of protection and 'non protection' (i.e. ecological, silvicultural, etc.) fire regimes at a local level.

Figure 20.1: CNR Planning Hierarchy, with particular reference to fire management.

Figure 20.1: CNR Planning Hierarchy, with particular reference to fire management.

Note: The term Local Management Plan refers to Plans that specify the management strategies to be applied to a particular geographic area. Examples of "Area" Management Plans include: Park Management Plans, Species Management Plans, Reference Area Management Plans. The Local Fire Management Plan should form the "fire" chapter of the "Area" Management Plan. Where no formal "Area" Management Plan exists, this could be a SubPlan to the Strategic Fire Management Plan (or Regional Fire Protection Plan) or a seperate Plan. If a detailed Local Fire Management Plan is required for an area (eg. a Park), this should be prepared as a SubPlan to the Park's Plan of Management.

Source: adapted from Wouters 1993

A strategic Fire Protection Plan (currently called Regional Fire Protection Plan) is the plan which sets out the fire protection objectives and the strategies. The preparation process for strategic Fire Protection Plans provides considerable opportunity for input from both CNR specialists and the public; this ensures that other land management objectives are considered in formulating the Plan.

Nonprotection or other land management objectives, such as those related to flora and fauna conservation, can require variation of the fire regime (including fire exclusion). In areas where significant non protection fire management objectives exist (e.g. coastal heathlands of East Gippsland, Wilson's Promontory, The Grampians) a local Fire Management Plan may be needed to integrate the various planned uses of fire and to detail specific fire regimes for a particular locality or vegetation type. The minimum requirement for a local Fire Management Plan is a process (i.e. a set of procedures, instructions or guidelines) to enable the coordination of protection and non protection prescribed burns. For example coordination of fuel reduction and post logging regeneration burns to minimise resource use without compromising the achievement of acceptable seedbed; coordination of fuel reduction burns and ecological burns to maximise the mutual benefits. A Local Fire Management Plan should contain all the detail that is necessary to give clear directions and prescriptions for fire management in a particular area. It should draw on the strategies set out in the strategic Fire Management Plan (or Regional Fire Protection Plan) for fire protection, as well as the Flora and Fauna Action Statements and Species Recovery Plans for any listed species which occur in the area. These are considered in conjunction with area management objectives as set out in the appropriate Park and/or Forest Area Management Plans (and should recommend specific regimes appropriate for the area/vegetation communities).

Some of the important points that a local Fire Management Plan needs to include are:

From these Plans, a 'rolling' Operations Plan of areas to be burnt over each forthcoming three year (or longer) period can be produced. This fire operations plan or schedule will aim to achieve an appropriate mosaic of fire ages and geographic distribution for each community, while still achieving fire protection. The plan will need to be revised annually to take into account wildfires and management burning achievements.

20.4 Ecological fire management

If the ecosystems currently present in our fireprone Forests and Reserves are to be maintained then some active vegetation management involving fire is imperative; fire management should be seeking to maintain the natural role of fire as an ecological process in vegetation communities and fauna habitats. The reasons for managing an ecosystem actively may include:

In fireprone communities, diversity means maintaining a range of ages since fire for each vegetation type, including recently burnt areas,
'long unburnt' areas and areas with a range of ages in between. The geographic distribution of the different aged communities should aim not to isolate or segregate areas of any particular age in an area, but rather provide for the migration of flora and fauna species between areas. The achievement of diversity may require active prescribed burning (i.e. for ecological purposes), especially given the highly effective fire suppression that is currently practiced. Wildfires will contribute to the areas burnt, and their effects must be incorporated into fire management planning each year, but these may be insufficient to maintain the desired age distributions. Large wildfires tend to have adverse effects on diversity, by converting large areas to similar ages, and hence are undesirable.

In some areas, fire may be allowed to promote the habitat of particular threatened or significant species. For example, some heathland in the Grampians may need to be burnt to maintain suitable habitat for the heath mouse (Pseudomys shortridgei). This species generally has maximum densities in six to nine year old heaths (Cockburn 1979; Wouters 1993). Similarly, some mallee communities may require fire exclusion to maintain suitable breeding sites for the Mallee fowl (Leiopoa ocellata). This species generally builds nest mounds only in long unburnt mallee (Benshemesh 1989)). Ecological fire management is usually not this simple; a 'conservative' approach needs to be taken to ensure that one particular species is not favoured at the expense of others in implementing 'ecological fire management' objectives. Monitoring and regular review of ecological management objectives and practices in the light of the best available information is essential, if we are to ensure that ecological management is appropriately balanced.

20.5 A local Fire Management Plan

An example of a local Fire Management Plan is the Fire Management Plan for Coastal Heathlands in Far East Gippsland (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 1993); this sets out the fire management required to maintain the ecology of coastal heathland, in particular ground parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) habitat.

The coastal heathlands, in the area between Marlo and Mallacoota, are divided into fire management units for the purposes of this Plan. The size and extent of these units is determined largely by ecological requirements (such as the home range of particular species being managed) and choosing boundaries that make suitable control lines for prescribed burning or wildfires. Following consideration of the fire protection, other land management objectives and the ecological requirements of the flora and fauna, a fire regime is assigned to each unit.

In areas of high protection priority (e.g. Zones 1 and 2) ecological values may need to be compromised. Fire that is applied to these areas should be using regimes which provide for compliance with the prescribed maximum fine fuel levels, including bark and elevated fuels where these are significant. Areas of lower protection priority (e.g. Zones 3 and 4) should be managed using mainly ecological fire regimes, with Zone 4 areas being burnt primarily for vegetation or habitat management. Any burning done in these zones will have some protection value because fuel levels will also be reduced.

20.6 Monitoring

Monitoring, particularly in association with prescribed burning operations, is an important part of any fire management program. It is also desirable following wildfires and some other fire management activities. Monitoring is the assessment and evaluation of management in achieving its objectives. It is a feedback mechanism which helps to assess the efficacy of management techniques, and provides the basis for improvements or developing alternatives to existing management techniques. It should be noted that monitoring is not scientific research or flora/fauna survey, and does not replace the need for these activities. It is a tool for applying good science to the operational practice of land management and complements formal research and survey.

Monitoring needs to be a process that targets specific management needs, and evaluates and reviews specific management objectives and techniques (e.g. where a particular site contains a plant species that may be sensitive to fire). It should not be an aimless process of gathering information.

A monitoring program should also provide some long term information that is required to improve and develop fire management (Wilson et al 1984; Wouters 1992). A monitoring program in the Mallee and Grampians is also providing basic information about the regeneration responses of various plant species to fire (i.e. seed regeneration vs resprouting, etc). This information will be used to develop fire regimes with an ecological basis that are appropriate for the vegetation types in which these plants occur; it will also contribute to a better understanding of the effects of different fire regimes on these ecosystems.

Monitoring for fire management can include the following aspects:

20.7 Summary

Fire management planning and monitoring for public land in Victoria are developing to achieve the integrated, planned use and exclusion of fire for fire protection, ecological management and other purposes, Strategic Fire Management Plans (currently Regional Fire Protection Plans) set out the objectives and strategies (but not management details) for achieving fire protection of Public Land; and local Fire Management Plans ensure appropriate ecological fire regimes are applied at the local level (i.e. Park, Forest or other Reserve).

Monitoring provides a feedback mechanism for helping managers learn from their successes and failures and hence improve their achievement of management objectives. Monitoring will assist fire management staff by: allowing them to assess and evaluate the impacts of their management operations; the changes that are occurring without active management; and the level of success in achieving stated management objectives. It is also an important means by which the knowledge base of fire effects and management will be improved. It should also provide the base information on which appropriate fire regimes can be developed.

The approach taken to fire management planning by CNR in meeting its obligations to managing fire on Victoria's public land is increasingly considering the environmental effects of fire and fire exclusion.

20.8 References

Benshemesh J. 1989, 'Management of Mallee fowl – With Regard to Fire, in The Mallee Lands: A Conservation Perspective, eds J.C. Noble, P.J. Joss & G.K. Jones, CSIRO East Melbourne.

Cockburn A. 1979, The Ecology of Pseudomys spp. in South-eastern Australia, Ph. D. thesis, Zoology Dept., Monash University, Melbourne.

Dept. Conservation and Natural Resources 1993, Fire Management Plan for Coastal Heathlands in Far East Gippsland. Dept Conservation and Natural Resources, Orbost Region, Report (unpub.)

Dept. Conservation and Environment, 1988, Draft Park Planning Manual. National Parks & Wildlife Division, Conservation and Environment, Victoria.

Wilson A.D., Tongway D.J., Graetz R.D. & Young M.D. 1984, Range inventory and monitoring in Management of Australia's Rangelands, eds G.N. Harrington, A.D. Wilson, & M.D. Young, CSIRO East Melbourne.

Wouters M.A. 1993, Developing Fire Management planning in Victoria: A case study from the Grampians, Fire Research Report No. 39, Fire Management Branch, Dept Conservation & Natural Resources, Victoria.

Wouters M.A. 1992, Monitoring Vegetation for Fire Effects, Fire Research Report No. 34, Fire Management Branch, Dept Conservation & Natural Resources, Victoria.