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Biodiversity and Fire - Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest
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Biodiversity and Fire: The effects and effectiveness of fire management
Proceedings of the conference held 8-9 October 1994, Footscray, Melbourne Biodiversity Series, Paper No.8 Biodiversity Unit Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996 • • • Next Contents Previous
2. Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest
Kevin Tolhurst Dept. Conservation & Natural Resources, Victoria
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2.1 Abstract 2.2 Introduction 2.3 Results and discussion 2.4 Conclusions 2.5 Acknowledgments 2.6 References
• • •
This study looked at the extent and duration of reduced fire hazard following fuel reduction burning in a dry sclerophyll foothill in north-central Victoria. Fuels were divided into surface litter, coarse dead fuels, elevated live and dead fuels and bark on trees. Comparisons were made of the effects of spring and autumn burning on the effectiveness of fuel reduction. Surface litter fuels reaccumulated to pre-burn levels after two to four years. Elevated fuels were slower to recover and may take ten years or more to return to pre-burn conditions. Coarse fuels were not significantly affected by a single low lntenslty fuel reduction burn. Bark on trees will take an estimated 15-25 years to recover to pre-burn conditions. Litter levels reaccumulated quicker on the spring burnt sites. Fire protection works should be based on a measure of total fire hazard not just litter fuel loads. Key words: fuel reduction, fuel loads, sclerophyll forest, Victoria, low-intensity burns, fire protection strategy
Low-intensity burning is used in Victoria as a fire protection measure and as a tool to conserve fauna and flora. Approximately 150 000 ha of native vegetation on public land are burnt annually for these purposes, with most of that area being burnt as a fire protection measure. The main objective of burning for fire protection is to reduce fuel levels during mild weather conditions and thereby reduce the intensity and damage of any subsequent wildfire burning under hot, windy conditions. The amount of fuel reduced, and its rate of recovery to pre-fire levels, is of particular relevance to management
The interplay of these various factors has not been described adequately enough to enable accurate prediction of fuel accumulation rates in most forest stands (Walker 1979).1 t ha-1 yr-1 over a three year period.9) 10. Buckley & Corkish 1991). and redistribution by rain splash following burning. until the litter layer is re-established (Baker & Attiwill 1985). 2. Coarse fuels (twigs.1 (0.4) 3.4 (0. effects of burning on decomposing microbes.9 (0. branches and fallen trees) are not important to the rate of spread of a fire.8 (2. 2. varied between 4. amount of scorching. However. but it has not reduced the difficulty to fire fighters of mopping-up wildfires. fallen trees.9 (0. Coarse fuels that burn near the base of trees can sustain a heat load long enough to cause stem damage (Cheney et al.8) 2. they influence the degree of stem damage to trees. and the interruption to invertebrate and fungal decomposition of litter for one to two years after the fires (Neumann & Tolhurst 1991).1 (11. 60% and bark on trees by about 30%. they are important in the mop-up stage of fire control.gov.1) can be attributed to the non-combustion of 35 per cent of the preburning litter load.5) Notes: Ninety-five percent confidence interval (±) shown in parentheses. Similar rates of litterfall could be expected in the present study which would indicate that very little of the residual or new litter decomposed during the two years after burning. litterfall averaged 3. Table 1: Average surface fuel quantity. 1990. and hence the rate of decomposition. Coarse fuels which remain unburnt provide islands of remnant fauna and micro-flora which can recolonise the surrounding area after burning. Priority 1 Zones adjoin value assets such as townships and www. This rapid rate of litter accumulation after burning has been reported in other forest types (e.8) 73.html Figure 2.1 (22. litter.Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest because the basis of a fire protection strategy is to keep fuels below specified levels. Treatment Control Autumn Spring Average Humus «5mm) (t. Spring burning treatment was measured in spring and autumn burning treatment was measured in autumn. there is a paucity of fuel load or fuel accumulation information for Victoria.1: Variation in litter fuel on the forest floor with time since burning compared with the unburnt control.8 (31. This rapid rate of litter accumulation means that trigger levels for fine fuel of 8 t ha-1 for Protection Priority 1 Zones and 12 t hal for Protection Priority 2 Zones used in public land fire management plans in Victoria (O'Bryan 1988) will be exceeded in about two and four years respectively. Raison et al.environment. the subsequent increased exposure to sun and wind.ha-L) Twigs (6 to 25mm) (t. Humus.4 (0.4 and 6.5 (28. working in the Wombat State Forest. only the elevated and loosely compacted litter fuels shrubs and wire-grass by about of humus or coarse fuel fuel components.6 t ha-1 yr-1 over a two year period with approximately 30 per cent of this litter being twigs. In this study we are measuring fuel loads in burnt and unburnt forest and quantifying the accumulation rates after fires.3 (1. subdivided by particle size.g. can be expected to reduce the levels and activity of decomposing organisms. the rapid accumulation of litter after burning (Fig. twigs. within treatment areas before the application of burning.2 (0. after a fuel reduction burn.3 Results and discussion Surface fuel loads at the beginning of the study are shown in Table 1. and they provide habitat for reptiles.5) 3. but had no significant effect on the amount components. Attiwill et al. and seasonal patterns.8 (0.7) 3.3) 71. during the mild were dry enough to burn. Humus is in an advanced stage of decomposition and therefore contains many decomposing organisms. (1978). small mammals and invertebrates. the additions from annual litterfall. 1983) and is related to the forest age. By leaving coarse fuels unburnt. brought about by the removal by burning of the overlying litter. and that in the Mt Disappointment forest.13/05/2012 Biodiversity and Fire . shrubs and bark on trees are being assessed in spring and autumn.1) 10.8) 62. adverse biological effects have been minimised.3) 10. The low-intensity fires used in this experiment reduced the amount of litter. This was attributed to the difference in drying patterns of the various spring and autumn conditions.0 (0.6) 3. branches. In this study. A complete account of the methods and results presented in this summary is given in Tolhurst & Flinn (1992). The drying of the humus layer.ha-L) 2.au/archive/biodiversity/publications/series/paperB/paper2. twigs. found that litterfall.1 (1.1 (0. including twigs up to 2 cm diameter. 2/5 .ha-a) Litter «6mm) (t.0) 11. productivity.9) 2. Total fine fuel is the combined weight of humus and litter.4) 77. In spite of the importance of fuel loads to fire protection operations.ha-L) Branches/Logs (>25 mm) (t.5) 1.
~ . As a result of this and the slow growth rate of the bark. (1979). Given the significant bark reduction by low-intensity burning.or low-intensity fire occur. and so the effectiveness of fuel reduction burning from a fire protection point of view may be underestimated if only litter fuels are considered. whereas Priority 2 Zones form strategic barriers to the spread of large wildfires. who found that the height of understorey shrubs increased at a constant rate for at least ten years after burning. In isolated instances. there is likely to be a period of about ten years during which short-distance spotting will be reduced and fire control made easier should another high.gov. Cover can be expected to return to pre-burn levels much faster than height.html 3/5 . This was to be expected because the greatest period of litterfall is in summer and autumn because this is the driest part of the year when the trees are subject to moisture stress (e. Fine fuel quantities on the control (unburnt) treatments tended to be greater in autumn than in spring.environment. bark. may be more important to the forward rate of spread of the fire than was found under the mild conditions during this study and is certainly a key limitation to fire control under most weather conditions.~ -J 8 6 4 ~ring 1R OorrtlOl R OorrtlOl --c. may be overemphasised when it is considered that the two major objectives of fuel reduction burning are to make fire control easier and to minimise fire severity should a wildfire occur.13/05/2012 Biodiversity and Fire .5 www. ~ 6 The bark of the messmate stringybark trees burnt ~ readily because of its fibrous nature.5 t ha-l above the levels observed in a normal season. the bark on the 0 trees was quite thick (up to 10 cm).. when fuel loads were 4.5 6 significantly reduced both the amount of bark and the Tirre Smce FiI1= (Yean) fissure depth on the trees in the first rotation fires. No such problems were experienced with the second rotation fires. shrubs and bark on trees. there is also unlikely to be much litter decomposition at this time. This expectation is consistent with Fox et al. vertical 4 arrangement and deep fissures. Emphasis on the litter fuel component of the fuel complex in the plans. Under drier and windier conditions.:a/S) AUTUMN 14 12 10 ~8 .g.Autumn 1R fire to the base of the tree. As most of the study areas had not been burnt for 30 to 50 years. This seasonal difference is exaggerated during extended droughts as found by Simmons and Adams (1986) in 1982/83. who found that shrub height increased for at least 25 years. and require that these areas be repeatedly burnt to keep fine fuel loads below the trigger levels.au/archive/biodiversity/publications/series/paperB/paper2. The estimated 7 t ha-l of bark that was burnt from the trees in the first rotation fires added significantly to the amount of short-distance spotting. via spotting.. Autumn 00 rrtrol because there was insufficient surface fuel to carry the 2 --0. most trees from which bark was burnt in the first fire did not burn again in the second rotation fires. and with Van Loon (1977).26 mm yr-l. the bark did not burn. bark thickness would take 15 to 25 years to return to pre-burning conditions on the overstorey trees (>30 cm DBHOB). Based on the initial recovery rates for elevated fine fuels measured in the present study. which increased the difficulty of keeping these fires controlled.. Attiwill et al.. and probably for several more years to come. Being dry.~ringl 2 --0- ~ring2R ~ring2R 0 0 2 3 4 . Elevated fine fuels such as wire-grass and shrubs take much longer to return to pre-burn cover and height. demonstrating that the fuel reduction burn had given good protection from short-distance spotting for the three years studied. 12 10 ~ .. Other fuels that affect the severity of the fire and the ability of fire fighters to control it are wire-grass.5 6 Tm-eSinC>E? FiI1= (Y. 1978). shrub height may take at least ten years to return to pre-burning conditions and wire-grass height may take at least four years. These other fuel components accumulate much more slowly after a fire. especially in mild conditions.. Pook (1985) also found that a severe drought caused the levels of leaf shedding in a eucalypt forest to be 3. however. Burning 0 2 3 4 . These fire management plans specify the areas in which these trigger levels are to apply. At the present growth rate of 1. but overall the structure of both of these elevated fuels can be expected to remain significantly altered for at least ten years.Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest SPRING 14 pine plantations.
15. and it was found that almost no burnt trees had enough bark to support a second fire within three years. Bushland fuel quantities in the Blue Mountains . vol. E. 1983. Tolhurst. 309-319. & Attiwill. 1978. (unpub. Department Conservation & Envirnonment. File 85/627.4 Conclusions Low-intensity fires in this study reduced the litter. Forestry & Lands. The effectiveness of the low-intensity fires in reducing the fire hazard therefore persists for longer than the effect on litter fuels alone would indicate. Buckley.). R. twig. Australian Journal of Ecology.J. 79-91. with up to 97 per cent of the total tree leaf area being shed. Baker. vol. vol. Research Report No. & Flinn. 29. Raison. I also thank Don Qswin. 1990.environment.pp. This difference would be more marked in drought years. Institute of Earth Resources. vol. Gould. 'Effects of fuel reduction burning on epigeal arthropods and earthworms in dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest of west-central Victoria'. D. Australian Forestry. B. Australian Journal of Botany.S. Chris Norman. Department Conservation.K. Kevin Brooker and the other staff of the Creswick Forest Research Station for their enthusiasm and physical support in conducting this research.5 Acknowledgments I wish to thank the staff and field crews of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for their cooperation in the planning of this experiment and for logistic support in performing the burning operations. & Leuning.P. N. Pook. Fire intensities in late summer and autumn could therefore be expected to be marginally greater than they are in late spring and early summer in any given area under a given set of weather conditions. G.Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest times greater than average. Neumann.6 References Attiwill. H. 49.. 1977.V. elevated fuels and bark on trees. litter fuel load underestimates the fire hazard by ignoring elevated fuels and bark on standing trees. pp. 'Canopy dynamics of Eucalyptus maculata Jook III. 1979. Simmons. Litter loads in autumn were generally greater than those in spring. Technical Report. 33.W. & Tolhurst. pp. Rationale for selecting trigger levels for priority 1 and 2 zones . Fox.G. RJ. 1991.. Cheney. Leaf and twig litter accumulated quickly after burning. 1991. Department Conservation & Environment.au/archive/biodiversity/publications/series/paperB/paper2. 2. Q'Bryan. 2. Woods. 16. Department of Conservation and Environment. Aspects of fuel dynamics in Australia. R. Forest Research Report No. CSIRO. N.D. Tony Morris. & Adams. 1985.M. pp. pp. 1988. Australian Journal of Botany. Ecological impacts of fuel reduction burning in dry sclerophyll forest: First progress report. Van Loon. & McKay. vol. & Corkish.. P. The current trigger levels used in Priority 1 and Priority 2 areas should therefore be replaced with a measure of fire hazard which includes litter fuel. Victoria. K. Division of Land Use www.B. A. and the levels were not significantly different from those in the unburnt areas within a two to four year period of the fires. 33. K.13/05/2012 Biodiversity and Fire . I Litter production and nutrient return'. J. such as the shrubs and wire-grass.W. pp. 1986. shrub fuels.M.. D. Victoria. 315-330. Both spring and autumn burning were similar in this regard.litter and understorey. A single fire did not significantly affect the coarse fuels or the fragmented humus fuels. P. M. pp. pp. eds. 149-154. 'Fuel dynamics in an urban fringe dry sclerophyll forest'.P.G. Elevated fuels. 'Nutrient cycling in Eucalytpus obliqua (L'Herit) forest. 2. 27. 1979.html 4/5 . no. Bark on trees will take an estimated 15-25 years to recover to pre-burn conditions. F. 'Litter accumulation after fire in a eucalypt forest'. 28 pp. N.G. & Hutchings.gov. D. Melb. 10th Triennial Conference. 65-79. T. P. Guthrie.S. Fire Management Branch. and may take ten years or more to return to unburnt conditions. Fox. A. No 12. were much slower to recover..T. 349. vol. 157-165. 26. Australian Forest Research.G. 3. bark on standing trees and other elevated fuels.1-22. 'Eucalypt Regrowth Management'.Address to Regional Fire Protection Officers 19/7/88. Amanda Ashton. Indeed. P. 'Fuel dynamics in recurrently burnt eucalypt forests'. J. & Khanna. Effects of drought'..W. 59-64. Victoria.M. Walker. Australian Journal of Botany. Institute Foresters of Australia.J. P. 1985. Forestry Commission. Research Note No. 1992.J. 'Loss of organic matter and elements from decomposing litter of Eucalyptus obliqua L'Herit and Pinys radiata'.
au/archive/biodiversity/publications/series/paperB/paper2.Effects of fuel reduction burning on fuel loads in a dry sclerophyll forest Resources.1-26. Environment. Population GPO Box 787 Canberra ACT 2601 Australia of Australia I Department and Communities www. • • • Next Contents Previous I Environment home I Accessibility I Disclaimer I Privacy I © Commonwealth Last updated: Saturday.html 5/5 . Water. 09-0ct-2010 16 :32 :27 EST of Sustain ability.13/05/2012 Biodiversity and Fire .environment. Technical Memorandum 79/7.gov. pp.
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