Northern Australia is an extensive area with a small population and minimal infrastructure. There is considerable summer rain (the ‘wet’) and very little in winter (the ‘dry’). In the ‘wet’, vegetation growth is considerable, producing abundant fine fuel. Temperature is relatively high all year, so that when the rain stops at the end of the ‘wet’, the fine fuels dry quickly and are extremely fire prone. One simple ignition in the latter half of the ‘dry’ can create a bushfire that will burn for months. Planned, or prescribed, burning is the main tool for halting bushfire by reducing fuel loads.
This project has built on existing work to create more sophisticated mapping and modelling tools. The information can be used for planning, operations, and suppression including summaries of past and present fire regimes.
The research team is applying this information and developing the Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework, to provide a standardised assessment report on fire regimes for all Australia’s savannas and rangelands.
The savanna burning research story has many components that all tie together and overlap. In parallel this project examines two significant programs:
- Satellite-derived mapping. The team has developed, and continues to develop, satellite-derived fire and habitat mapping to describe the extent, occurrence and severity of fire at various scales to assess fire effect in various habitats.
- Extensive long-term field sampling. The team has sampled savanna vegetation in detail on the ground at permanent sites for more than 20 years to understand the impacts of different fire management on the environment. A suite of permanent sites exist across the Kimberley, Cape York, the western Top End, and the Gulf region bordering Queensland and the Northern Territory that describe fuel accumulation and tree growth with respect to fire regimes.
There are many beneficiaries of a new Savanna Burning Methodology including Federal Department of Environment and Energy, numerous Indigenous Resource Agencies, all the northern land councils, the Indigenous Land Corporation, numerous pastoral lease holders, Queensland Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Western Australia and the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT.
Currently north Australia is generating over $30 million dollars annually through payments for ecosystem services on over 330,000 km2, an area which is still only 40% of the potential extent for these projects. The new methodology being developed will open the industry up to more of these stakeholders, particularly in East Arnhem Land and on Cape York, where it is sometimes more difficult to undertake prescribed burning until later in the season.
The Savanna Monitoring and Evaluation Reporting Framework will gather all aspects of the research to date and provide end-users with a simple ability to monitor their fire management and evaluate its effects through time.
This project builds upon substantial work previously undertaken within the facility of the Bushfire CRC “North Australia fire mapping” project.
The work undertaken through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC is part of a savanna-wide program of mostly web based fire mapping and related information to assist land managers with fire planning across very large tracts of land. We are developiuung the Savanna Monitoring & Evaluation Reporting Framework (SMERF) to provide easy to use, flexible, but sophisticated reports.