Activity Report – Ecological Burns

JUNE 11 – Ecological Burns

On 11th June we had a presentation by Parks and DEPI staff: Jill Read ‘Fire and environment management officer’, Ryan Duffy ‘Biodiversity and Heritage officer’ from Halls Gap, Glen Rudolph ‘Planning Manager Wimmera District, Land and  Fire’, and  Andrew Govanstone ‘South West Bushfire Risk Landscape Planning’ DEPI. They explained some of the processes and considerations put into planned burns. This is a very large and complex subject and I have tried to give a brief overview of some of the things presented to us.

The Grampians is a fire prone landscape and has a high occurrence of lightning and so most of the species are well adapted to fire. 70% of the vegetation requires fire for regeneration and is fire dependant, 28% is influenced by fire but requires much longer intervals between fires, 1% is fire sensitive and is severely damaged by fire and 1% is independent of fire. The Grampians is made up of a mosaic of different vegetation types, consisting of over 40 Environmental Vegetation Communities (EVC’s)  and each of these has a different Tolerable Fire Interval (TFI). Key fire response species are used to determine these TFI’s. For example some communities require 8-12 years for key species to mature and set enough seed to regenerate after a fire and if left too long e.g. 45 years or longer adult plants will have died and soil seed banks will decline. Ecological burns also take into consideration, keeping floristic diversity, creating environments that will sustain small ground dwelling mammals and protecting creeks and gullies from wildfires.

After the 2006, 2013 and 2014 wildfires the Grampians has very little long unburnt bush left and so reducing fuel loads around this remaining bush will be required to protect it from future wildfires. After 2006 it was thought there would not be another large fire for 20 years, however with the wildfires of 2013 and 2014, it has become apparent that things have changed. The types of fires we will be dealing with in the future are going to be more severe and there may need to be a change in the way planned burns are done. We were shown a video of the January 2013 fire which showed fire going from an area which 2 years earlier had a planned burn and then the increasing intensity when it got to unburnt bush. Fires in the Grampians are started predominantly by lightning and with the drying climate these are occurring earlier and later in the season and are more intense.

A fire and fauna project has been set up with Deakin university and after the 2006 fires 36 monitoring sites were established to monitor small mammals. Some of these sites have now had 2 and 3 fires over them, some wildfires and some planned burns. This monitoring is now giving a valuable database which when combined with rainfall and other environmental data gives a picture of how many of the small mammals react to fire. It also shows how important refuges are in times of drought and fires and how gullies and other refuge areas need to be managed to protect against wildfire. In addition to the Deakin work DEPI put out remote sensing cameras to monitor animals in areas before and after planned burns. DEPI’s Arthur Rylah Institute do bird surveys, and Field Naturalist groups also do camera monitoring.

It is recognised that there is a need to change the strategies used for ecological burns to achieve a more mosaic effect across the landscape. Different types of fire may need to be applied in different areas with some only one hectare and some larger areas treated but with a patchy effect achieved within that area.

Phoenix modelling is used to predict how fires might spread and do damage. This modelling has been used while fires are going and to help with decisions on how to attack fires and where to put resources. It is a tool which will be used more in the future for Strategic Bushfire Management Planning, which will be used to develop the Fire Operation Plans (FOPs). FOPs currently look at three years of planned burns and focus mainly on fuel management zones. Over the next 12 months this new Strategic Bushfire Management Planning (SBMP) will be developed and it will have a more holistic approach to planned burns. There will also be an emphasis on working with the community to understand how they would like to see public land managed in relation to fire. Part of that process will be that there will be more meetings like the one held on June 11th for FOGGs, as well as opportunities for people to contribute to this process. At the next Grampians Round  Table meeting Wendy and Margo will learn more about these changes and inform people in the next newsletter.