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Fuel reduction burns endanger wildlife in Australia’s semi-arid zones

GardenDrum

GardenDrum

August 12, 2014

bushfire fighters

After devastating wildfires in Victoria, Australia in 2009, a state-wide target of hazard reduction burning 5% of bushland each year was introduced. But a new study shows that in semi-arid zones, this once-every-20-year burn cycle will have serious consequences for many animals and birds.

The Mallee - photo by longhair

The Mallee – photo by longhair

Despite widely-held beliefs that Australian flora and fauna is adapted to, and thrives on frequent fires, the Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Team of researchers from Deakin and La Trobe Universities found that in the Murray mallee vegetation of north-west Victoria, the greatest abundance and diversity of wildlife was in areas that hadn’t been burned for 50 years or more.

 

Researchers found that many animals depend on the development of spinifex hummocks and tree hollows, both of which are destroyed in hazard reduction burning and that the effects of a fire linger on for up to 100 years.

South-western pygmy possum

South-western pygmy possum. Photo-Miss.chelle

Added to that was a disproportionate amount of burning in the mallee compared to its fire risk. Under 3% of the state’s fire risk to people and property is located in the Murray Mallee, but it had 16.9% of the state’s hazard reduction burns in 2012-2013. Densely populated areas close to Melbourne have 31% of the risk, but received only 1.6% of the state’s burns.

 

The reasons for this include that burning close to densely populated areas is much riskier and causes unpleasant and even dangerous pollution for city dwellers. But the consequences of this high rate of mallee burning for species like the yellow-plumed honey eater, south-western pygmy possums, tiny mallee ningaui and the southern legless lizard could be permanent.

The Mallee Fire and Biodiversity Team’s project is one of 3 finalists for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Science Prize, to be announced on September 10, 2014.

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