Australia — Prescribed burning is not just better for bushfire prevention: with some exceptions, it can be better for the environment, too, bushfire expert Phil Cheney believes.
In a dry eucalypt forest with litter and shrub understory – a habitat description of many of Australias peri-urban developments and the villages devastated on Black Saturday – Mr Cheney says that a prescribed burn that leaves 70-80 per cent clean burned ground will not carry a fire under extreme conditions for at least a year, and fuel loads will not again reach their full potential for another 15 years.
He suggests that forests need to be managed around a checkerboard pattern of prescribed burns, with initially not less than 10-12 per cent of a forest burnt each year on an eight-year rotation.
After the first cycle, fresh burns might drop to eight per cent of the forest, but not less. Certain sensitive areas could be excluded from fire management.
The result, Mr Cheney argues, will be a forest with a far greater diversity of habitat, and in which a fire will eventually meet a fresh burn and peter out rather than razing the entire area.
… I believe that Aboriginal people across Australia understood very well what would be the consequences of widespread fire in continuous fuel during the dry season, Mr Cheney writes in the latest AFI Farm Policy Journal.
Because they had little, if any, capacity for suppression, they burnt regularly to protect themselves and the continuity of their food supply.