Bushfires in Australia can create havoc. In the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, 173 people died, and over 2000 houses were burned to the ground: this episode of fires often dominated the front pages of newspapers but the many thousands of other landscape fires occurring in any one year in Australia all have effects to a greater or lesser extent, for better or for worse, on households, farms, conservation reserves and forestry estates, i.e. on our social, economic and environmental assets. ANU Researchers have been concerned with all aspects of fires from their behaviour through to policy responses.
Fires contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and therefore have an effect on global warming. However, the effect of global warming on the fires themselves is an important research area also. Temperatures are rising and most of the Australian continent is drying: in high rainfall areas fire may become more prevalent but in dry areas become less frequent. Weather changes may indicate faster more intense fires are likely but such changes may be offset by poorer pasture-fuel growth. Research into changes in fire behaviour under different climate scenarios by national and international groups of researchers has been an important plank in ANU research.
In the Fenner School, the impacts of fires have been studied on a variety of assets such as houses, biodiversity and water supply. In response to the adverse effects of fires there has been consideration of a range of management, policy, legal, governance and economic issues.
Research assists us to better adapt while our population is increasing, our climate is changing and our impact on the land is intensifying. The overarching question is: How can we better care for our social, environmental and economic assets now, let alone in the future with its ever changing fire environments? As Moritz, Gill et al., 2014, put it: How can we learn “to coexist with wildfire”?
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