Burning Issues book is on fire

23 November 2011

Fire is integral to Australian ecosystems, but when it comes to how best to use fire to maintain forest health and reduce bushfire safety risks, debate can be firey. A new book Burning Issues by Professor Mark Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, and Dr Peter Attiwill, from the University of Melbourne, explores the science and politics of burning the Australian landscape.

Burning Issues will be launched on 23 November 2011 by CSIRO Publishing and the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne. The Hon Bernard Teague, AO, Chair of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, will officially launch the new book at the event.

Professor Mark Adams, who is also a board member for the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, has researched fire and forest management for more than two decades, especially focussing on the effects of fire on the carbon balance of native forests. Fire has been a constant element of Professor Adams' research since bushfires burnt his PhD forest study sites on the outskirts of Melbourne in 1982 and 1983.

Dr Peter Attiwill is Principal Fellow in Botany and Senior Fellow in Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne and editor-in-chief of the international journal Forest Ecology and Management.

"We can manage fire for both safety and ecological diversity, but the science of fires is very complex as it affects many aspects of forest health," said Professor Adams. "In our book, Burning Issues, we look at the history and role of fire in Australia's ecosystems and how it can be best managed, with the aim of changing public attitudes to fire and to influence and encourage changes in land management by government agencies."

"As we say in our book, the forest manager faces an almost insurmountable problem: people, most of whom live in the cities, have an innate fear of fire. If fire is always seen as bad, how can it be used for good?"

"The intentional use of fire arouses passions and conflicts. Concern about bushfires has in part been replaced by an urban concern about the use of planned fires for fuel reduction and forest regeneration. The concern about using fire is a reflection of the increased separation of people in the city and country, and of the increasingly poor knowledge city people have of what it takes to live in and manage the bush," said Professor Adams.

In Burning Issues, the authors talk about people's perceptions of fire being affected by "the discomfort of smoke-tainted washing or wine, or conscience-twanging images on the nightly news or rants in major daily newspapers by columnists and others who make a living from the media, about 'escaped prescribed fires or back burns'."

The authors note calls following the February 2009 Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires for a single, simple answer on fuel reduction burning to reduce bushfire risk, but they emphasise this is a complex issue without a simple answer.

There has been much research in the broad area of prescribed burning over many years, including a significant contribution by Bushfire CRC researchers. Burning Issues draws some of this science together and attempts to analyse its contribution to the politics and policy development of various governments.

"The science of fires is really complex - it affects all sorts of elements like the nutrient balance of soils, the distribution and ages of the vegetation, animals and insects. It also affects the carbon balance, with a resulting impact on the debates around greenhouse gas emissions," explained Professor Adams.

Burning Issues discusses these topics and more and reviews the science as the authors explore the concept of ecological sustainability.

Burning Issues is published by CSIRO Publishing, 160 pages, $49.95.

Contact: Professor Mark Adams

Phone: 02 8627 1010

Email: 3b28145a3223074c03040a432b5d05380745144f3a140e575c1d37411418