Living in a land of fire

Intergrative commentary
Professor Rob Whelan, University of Wollongong
Professor Peter Kanowski, Australian National University
Dr Malcolm Gill, Australian National University
Dr Alan Andersen, CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006

Conclusions: living in a land of fire

Fires are an inherent part of the Australian environment. They cannot be prevented, but the risks they pose—to life, health, property and infrastructure, production systems, and to environment values—can be minimised through systematic evaluation and strategic planning and management.

Fires have a fundamental and irreplaceable role in sustaining many of Australia’s natural ecosystems and ecological processes, and they are a valuable tool for achieving many land management objectives. However, if they are too frequent or too infrequent, too severe or too mild, or mistimed, they can erode ecosystem ‘health’ and biodiversity and compromise other land management goals—just as uncontrolled fires can threaten life, property, infrastructure, and production systems.

Australians have been learning to live with fire since Indigenous Australian’s migration to the continent. The COAG Report envisaged a future in which Australians continued this learning process, to better understand the nature of fire in Australia, and to better achieve both protection of life and property and conservation of Australia’s unique environment.