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Global research weighs in on fire debate

By Leanne Coleman

Professor Jeremy Russell-Smith offers an NT perspective to a global paper on prescribed burning Professor Jeremy Russell-Smith offers an NT perspective to a global paper on prescribed burning

As the debate continues to rage about prescribed burning, leading bushfire researchers from Charles Darwin University and around the world have contributed their perspectives in a series of papers.

The Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research at CDU aims to extend the capacity to deliver applied fire management research and training opportunities particularly to land managers in Northern Australia and regional neighbours.

Research by the team will feature in a special issue of the prestigious journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”, published by the Ecological Society of America, focusing on prescribed burning alongside research from teams in Europe, North and South America, South Africa, and southern Australia.

Professor Jeremy Russell-Smith, from the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research, said that fire was an inevitable and often essential component of ecosystem processes and landscape management.

“In many parts of the world, particularly in savannah-rich environments such as Northern Australia, there are competing management demands for ensuring public safety from fire while maintaining ecosystem services and cultural and biodiversity values,” Professor Russell-Smith said.

“Prescribed fire management is a complex debate about what is sustainable today as opposed to historical regimes and, what is the best combination of frequency, seasonality, intensity, and type of fire for a particular region in terms of public safety and ecosystem maintenance.”

As well as being an editor, Professor Russell-Smith’s contribution to the collaborative article describes the application of traditional Aboriginal burning practices in north Australian savannas. It details the successful implementation of a commercial “savanna burning” carbon emissions mitigation program that also provides local employment and biodiversity benefits. This is built on 17 years of world-class applied fire management research in Northern Australia.

“Savanna fires contribute as much as 10 per cent of annual total global carbon emissions and, although intentional burning is officially prohibited in most countries containing savanna systems, fire is a requisite management tool in many local livelihood applications,” he said.

The Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research was established after an agreement between CDU and the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Land Resource Management was announced earlier in 2013. The new Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research has joined the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods at CDU.

To read the paper visit W: