Applied Bushfire Science Program
The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) has established the Applied Bushfire Science program to address bushfire risks to environmental and Aboriginal cultural values across NSW.
The Applied Bushfire Science Program will address key recommendations from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry relating to ecosystems and recognition of Aboriginal cultural knowledge, as well as impacts of fire on Aboriginal cultural values.
The program includes establishing a central point of information for managing fire risk for native plants, animals, habitats and Aboriginal cultural values across the state.
Co-leader of the program, Ross Bradstock, emphasises: “The Applied Bushfire Science Program is a landmark opportunity with widespread ramifications – it will increase the state’s capacity to do fire science; it’s an opportunity to collect foundational data so that we can better manage fire risk for environmental and cultural values, informed by science and knowledge.”
The program will partner with Aboriginal knowledge holders to understand fire impacts on cultural values and empower First Nations’ voice in the fire planning process.
DPE scientists will seek input from colleagues across government, research and private sectors, environmental groups, citizen scientists, and Aboriginal communities. Together, they will build an understanding of existing data on the responses of species and cultural values to fire and identify knowledge gaps.
The team will also gather information and establish case studies to support evidence-informed prescribed fire mitigation strategies, backed by adaptive monitoring. This will include reviewing and improving existing ‘fire thresholds’ – the burn frequency limits applied across the state.
The next step will be to build a framework that answers important questions for land managers and custodians, such as what fire management regime is best for a particular species or ecological community? And, how can we best manage fire risk in relation to cultural values?
Where these questions can’t be answered with existing data, the program will guide land managers on how to establish their fire management activities to feed new data back into the framework and to fill knowledge gaps.
The program will also advance New South Wales' capacity to lead critical bushfire research.
Refining and improving fire management thresholds
The fire thresholds project in the Applied Bushfire Science Program will increase the knowledge and capacity of land managers to make evidence-informed decisions.
The team will review the existing thresholds developed in 2003, which focus on responses of key plant species to fire frequency. It will then expand the thresholds to include responses of habitat and the effects of other fire regime elements, including fire severity and season.
One of their first tasks will be to establish case studies to help improve the scale and suitability of the thresholds. The case studies will help to develop a long-term monitoring framework that will be designed to continually improve fire thresholds across the state.
The thresholds project responds to key recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, including the recommendation to invest in long-term ecosystem and land management monitoring, forecasting, research and evaluation.
Identifying and filling knowledge gaps for threatened species
Current guidelines – such as the Threatened Species Hazard Reduction list conditions – inform hazard reduction activities but are sometimes too broad or vague to represent species’ capacities to withstand the disturbance.
Different species and groups of plants and animals (ecological communities) also vary in their tolerance to fire. For many species, there is little available information.
The threatened species project in the Applied Bushfire Science Program will identify and fill knowledge gaps for listed flora and fauna.
The data will form baseline information to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of fire risk mitigation. It will also help monitor trends in bushfire impacts and contribute to a national bushfire data – one of the recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.
The data will also become the central point of information on plant and animal fire responses in NSW, to be continually updated as new information becomes available, and to minimise inconsistencies between bushfire risk mitigation plans.
Cultural and Environmental Knowledge Integration and Modelling
The Applied Bushfire Science team will use outcomes of the threshold and threatened species projects to improve the environmental knowledge incorporated into bushfire risk management and planning. They will also establish, through a community led approach, foundational data sets for cultural values, and options for cultural fire management practices to mitigate fire – enabling bushfire risk planning that considers cultural needs.
Working closely with the NPWS Bushfire Risk and Evaluation Team, the Applied Bushfire Science team will fill knowledge gaps, including on the exposure of values, their vulnerability, significance, and recovery in relation to fire.
The team will then apply the best available science, data and spatial modelling tools to explore and assess the impacts of different fire and land management scenarios to help fire planners optimise risk management activities for environmental and cultural values.
The project aims to reduce the complexity of the environmental and cultural information provided by DPE to fire managers.
Outcomes through knowledge exchange and communication
The Applied Bushfire Science Program strategically resources planning, integration, communications and evaluation. This approach includes evaluating the current Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub. It will also ensure that the most up to date and available knowledge from the program reaches fire planners and policy makers, and position the program for long-term continuity.
If you would like more information please contact the Applied Bushfire Science team using the form below.