Wildfires, fuel treatment and risk mitigation in Australian eucalypt forests: Insights from landscape-scale simulation
Wildfires pose significant risks to people and human infrastructure worldwide. The treatment of fuel in landscapes may alter these risks but the magnitude of this effect on risk is poorly understood. Evidence from Australian Eucalyptus forests suggests that mitigation of risk using prescribed burning as a fuel treatment is partial because weather and fuel dynamics are conducive to regular high intensity fires. We further examine the response of risk to treatment in eucalypt forests using landscape simulation modelling. We model how five key measures of wildfire activity that govern risk to people and property may respond to variations in rate and spatial pattern of prescribed fire. We then model effects of predicted climate change (2050 scenarios) to determine how the response of risk to treatment is likely to be altered in the future. The results indicate that a halving of risk to people and property in these forests is likely to require treatment rates of 7e10% of the area of the landscape per annum. Projections of 2050 weather conditions under climate change further substantially diminished the effect of rate of treatment. A large increase in rates of treatment (i.e. circa. 50% over current levels) would be required to counteract these effects of climate change. Such levels of prescribed burning are unlikely to be financially feasible across eucalypt dominated vegetation in south eastern Australia. Despite policy imperatives to expand fuel treatment, a reduction rather than an elimination of risk will result. Multifaceted strategies will therefore be required for the management of risk.