New book looks at the science of a burning issue

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The science and the politics of burning the Australian landscape to reduce bushfire risk and promote biodiversity is the subject of a new CSIRO Publishing book sponsored by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre to be launched in Melbourne on 23 November by the Hon Bernard Teague, AO, Chair of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

The book is Burning Issues, by Professor Mark Adams, a Bushfire CRC Board member and Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, and Dr Peter Attiwill, 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.

In Burning Issues, they describe the history and role of fire in Australia’s ecosystems and how fire can be managed for both safety and ecological diversity, with the aim of changing public attitudes to fire and to influence and encourage changes in land management by government agencies.

They 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 intentional use of fire arouses passions and conflicts, Professor Adams and Dr Attiwill say in Burning Issues.

“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?”

Indeed, concern about bushfires has in part been replaced by an urban concern about the use of planned fires for fuel reduction and forest regeneration, they say.

The science of fires is very complex as it affects many aspects of forest health, including 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.  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.

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Release date

Thu, 17/11/2011