Latest Center News
6/24 - Notes from the Field: Wildfire, Wildlife, and Collaboration in Australia
Authored by Scott Stephens, Co-Director, UC Berkeley Center for Fire Research & Outreach as part of his Fulbright Fellowship in Perth, Australia titled 'Mitigating Large Wildfires (Bushfires): Characteristics of the World’s Largest Prescribed Fire Program in a Mediterranean Climate'
One of the more exciting things I have opportunity to do as a wildland fire scientist is traveling and learning about fire in other countries, cultures, and ecosystems. This summer I find myself in Australia, home to one of the five Mediterranean-type ecosystems in the world (along with parts of California, Chile, the Mediterranean basin, and South Africa), traveling the country with experts from the University of Western Australia and the Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Below are some of my notes and photos of fire, fauna, and landscapes from my trip thus far. The past month here has been filled with adventure, new knowledge, and beauty. I look forward to sharing more with you when I return at the end of the summer (for those in the northern hemisphere).
5/31 – near Perth, AU - The native forests in Perth get over a meter in rain, but vegetation is modest, due in part to the old, nutrient-poor soil.
5/31 – near Perth, AU - The sago palm has a fruit that can be eaten but is poison unless processed correctly. The native people had a way to process it, requiring several stages.
5/31 – near Perth, AU – A mixed Marri and Jarrah forest. A fire scar can be seen at the base of a snag.
6/5 – Kimberley, AU – I have been working as part of a 4 person crew on plots investigating non native plants in this region of far north western Australia. The fire regime is all that keeps this cool savannah from becoming dense with trees and shrubs.
The trees with big lower diameters in this photo are baobab trees. It is thought baobabs arrived in Australia from Africa about 11 million years ago, maybe by a floating seed from the Indian Ocean. It was not around before this time and is still genetically almost identical to those in Africa.
6/5 – Kimberley Region, AU – “Bonus” photo of a native white bird that resides near our camp.
6/7 - Kimberly, AU - It was interesting to work and learn about the tropical savannah. This photo is of the crew working in a 5x5 meter plot inventorying all understory plants. We had 100 unknown species after 5 days of work. The crew is my host Pauline Grierson from the University of Western Australia, Ian from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (which is sponsoring all of the work), and Harley, an honors student who will do all of the data analysis. It was fun working with them.
6/7 – Gibbs River Road in the Kimberley, AU – Prescribed fire in the savannah. There were 25-30 fires off the road we were traveling. Crews seemed to ignite the fires and move on, leaving them unmanned. About 25% of the whole area seems to be burned each year, preventing it from becoming jammed with trees and shrubs.
6/7 – Kimberly Region, AU – One of the very few native conifers (Callitris) in Australia (almost everything is a hardwood species). It is a member of the cypress family (Cupressaceae). One of the students here (Alison O'Donnell ) is working to reconstruct climate and precipitation via tree ring analysis from this species. The oldest trees are about 200 years old, and dead trees are removed by all the fire, making this analysis challenging. The trees have thin bark and live in rock outcrops or areas with very low surface fuels.
6/7 – Kimberley Region, AU – A broad view of the savannah ecosystems in the Kimberley region. The topography here is mild—the tallest mountain in this region is just over 300 meters (about 1000 ft).
6/13 – near Peth in Kings Park, AU – I returned to Perth to a docent tour of the native bushands in Kings Park. This is a 1000 acre park with some memorials and lawn but the majority is still native bushland.
The Red Wattlebird seen in this photo is pollinating a Firewood banksia. Birds are the main pollinator of this plant group. Banksia are dependent on fire to release stored seed for regeneration.
6/13 – near Perth in Kings Park, AU – This landscape was burned in 2009 by high severity fire. The docents said it was completely black after the fire, but the vegetation came back fast. Some remaining snags can be seen. Regeneration is from sprouting and a soil stored seed bank.
6/16 – 250km south of Peth, AU – I am here visiting an experimental site that has been repeatedly burned with 'mosaic burning'. This is the wettest region of Western Australia, receiving about 1 meter of rain each year. The Karri forests found here are home to the tallest trees in this area (the Mountain Ash trees in Victoria are taller but not by much). Karri trees can resprout from the bole and branches after complete crown scorch, but mainly regenerate by seed after higher severity fire.
6/16 – 250km south of Peth, AU – This Karri tree has steel stakes driven into it, leading to a fire lookout on top. They cut the top off this tree and anybody can climb these stairs over 150ft to the top (I did not take the plunge). These lookouts were used until the 1960s, but their use today is limited to days with severe fire weather.
6/16 – 250km south of Peth, AU – This photo of the London Block area shows where a large group of scientists are working on quantifying the effects of mosaic patch burning. It is an area of about 12,000 acres with forest, shrublands, grasslands, and granite outcrops. The vegetation here grows back very quickly after fire; in 5 years it is almost back to the beginning with little plant mortality but changes to understory can occur. They burn here for ecological and fire safety objectives. They first burn the perimeter of units about 2500-10,000 acres in size over a period of 1-2 days. When this is done and they have a good weather forecast, they burn the center of the units with air ignitions.
6/18 - near Manjimup, AU - This thinned and burned Karri eucalyptus forest is on State Forest lands. They have both National Park and State Forest public lands here. Burning and harvesting takes place on state lands, but only burning is carried out on park lands. Western Australia public forests are about 50-50 between parks and start forest areas.
This Karri forest is about 70 years old (a high severity fire passed through 70 years ago). Stem density was quite high so a commercial thin was done with sawlogs sent to the mill. The harvest was followed by a prescribed fire to reduce activity fuels.
6/18 - near Manjimup, AU - Karri trees planted after a clear cut. It looked to be about a 5 acre opening and seedlings were container stock.
6/18 - near Manjimup, AU - A native bird, the emu, in a thinned and burned Karri forest. There were 2 of them moving through the stand. It did not seem to care much about me but did grunt a couple of times. There are pretty big birds and are native to this area.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this update as much as I have writing it. I have a little more than a month of my trip remaining, and there will be more to show in the future. Until then, please send me any questions, comments, stories, or anything else you may wish to share. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to The Fulbright Program for making this journey possible. If you are interested in learning more about wildland fire science in Australia and California, you can view some of our past research here:
Gill, A.M., S.L. Stephens, and G.J. Carry. 2013. The world-wide "wildfire" problem. Ecological Applications 23(2):438-454. [Link]
Sneeuwjagt, R.J., T.S. Kline, and S.L. Stephens. 2013. Opportunities for improved fire use and management in California: lessons from Western Australia. Fire Ecology 9(2): 14-25. (doi: 10.4996/fireecology.0902014) [Link]
Spies, T. A., D.B. Lindenmayer, A.M. Gill, S.L. Stephens, and J.K. Agee. 2011. Challenges and a checklist for biodiversity conservation in fire-prone forests: Perspectives from the Pacific Northwest of USA and Southeastern Australia. Biological Conservation 145:5-14. [Link].
Mutch, R.W. M.J. Rogers, S.L. Stephens, and A.M. Gill. 2010. Protecting lives and property in the wildland urban interface: Communities in Montana and Southern California adopt Australian paradigm. Fire Technology DOI: 10.1007/s10694-010-0171-z. [Link]
Stephens S. L., M. Adams, J. Hadmer. F. Kearns, B. Leicester, J. Leonard, M. Moritz. 2009. Urban-wildland fires: how California and other regions of the US can learn from Australia Environmental Research Letters 4 014010 [Link]
Gill, A.M., and S.L. Stephens. 2009. Scientific and social challenges for the management of fire-prone wildland-urban interfaces. Environmental Research Letters 4 034014. [Link]