What is a NPWS fire management plan?

    Fire management plans help guide fire management activities in national parks and on crown land, in areas of high fire risk or community value across South Australia. They set strategic priorities about where, how, and why we need to act to reduce the risk of bushfire and to manage the environment e.g. the ecological process of fire is critical to helping many native plants and animal habitats to regenerate, and it can help with weed control.

    These plans are informed by the latest technology, evidence and science available. Actions from the plans include using these tools:

    • mechanical fuel modification – rolling, lopping, chipping, crushing, piling and slashing vegetation to lessen risk
    • prescribed burns – using the right kind of fire in the right place at the right time, and applied in the right way to reduce fuel in an environmentally sensitive way
    • constructing and maintaining tracks and trails for firefighters and visitors in parks to use
    • constructing and maintaining fire management infrastructure including water supply points, access gates and signs.

    What are fire management strategies?

    A fire management strategy is an activity (e.g. prescribed burn, slashing or thinning vegetation), piece of infrastructure (e.g. fire access track, water tank), or policy (e.g. temporary park closure) which helps reduce bushfire risk, support firefighting efforts, or protect environmental values. 

    Fire management strategies can be made up of a combination of actions to: 

    • reduce fuel hazards 
    • provide reliable fire infrastructure such as water and access to fires via track networks and airstrips 
    • reduce the likelihood of NPWS staff and visitors being in areas of bushfire risk through policies that alter access to parks 
    • increase NPWS staff, visitors and community knowledge and awareness of bushfire risks and enhance their capacity to prepare for bushfires 
    • use fire as a tool to maintain and enhance natural values. 

    What's the difference between this plan and existing NPWS fire management plans on KI?

    One plan

    This draft plan amalgamates 4 fire management plans (Cape Forbin, Cape Gantheaume, Dudley Peninsula, and Flinders Chase) into one for the whole island. Having an island-wide perspective of all Kangaroo Island parks and Crown land managed by the Department for Environment and Water provides greater strategic direction to focus on fire management at a scale which aligns with the Kangaroo Island CFS Bushfire Management Area Plan, Kangaroo Island Council and Kangaroo Island Landscape Board. It will help streamline our work with partners and stakeholders, improve prioritisation and bushfire response, and better respond to changes in fire risk.

    Improved methods

    This draft plan uses the latest fire science, knowledge and computer-based tools to make it more effective and more evidence-based. It also relies on local knowledge and lived experiences to help make it robust alongside new learnings and knowledge from local, regional, state and national experts.

    Updated zone standards

    Fire management zones identify where specific fire management activities will be undertaken, with the type of activity depending on the zone and objectives. Zone standards are set in the South Australian State Bushfire Coordination Committee’s document; Fire management zone standard and guidance for use.

    In the past, there were only 3 zones: asset protection, bushfire buffer and conservation zones. Now the standards have been updated to help refine objectives and include strategic fuel management and exclusion zones, along with identifying unzoned areas. 

    Asset protection, bushfire buffer and strategic fuel management zones primarily minimise bushfire risk to life, property and environmental assets by managing fuel (vegetation). Activities can include prescribed burns or reducing fuel mechanically. Asset protection and buffer zones are treated in their entirety. Activities in strategic fuel management zones aim to treat only targeted areas in the zone.

    Conservation zones manage native ecosystems with ecological burns, to help maintain or enhance them.

    Exclusion zones have nominated times to exclude planned burning, usually to protect environmental values.

    Unzoned areas were considered however it was decided no strategies were required at this point in time.

    Why does fire management need to happen?

    Fire management is everybody’s business, and everyone has a role to plan and be prepared for a bushfire.

    Managing fine fuel is a key part of being bushfire ready. If we manage this fuel we improve the chances of reducing the intensity and spread of a bushfire. Although protecting life is a priority, protecting bushland is important, although it presents challenges as we balance reducing the likelihood and impact of bushfire with conserving and enhancing biodiversity.

    The NPWS Fire Management Program is also driven by a range of State and Commonwealth Acts, regulations and policies.

    Is fire management needed in Wilderness Protection Areas?

    Wilderness Protection Areas are home to significant natural and cultural values that support a functioning ecosystem. Fire has played an integral part in shaping the ecosystems of Kangaroo Island’s WPAs. Applying fire management activities in these areas is necessary to protect the quality of the wilderness and the life and property of local communities. And activities such as prescribed burning in a WPA also helps conserve environmental values, endangered species or ecological communities.

    Questions on fuel breaks and fire access tracks

    Do fuel breaks and/or fire access tracks work?

    Fuel breaks, also referred to as fire breaks, and fire access tracks can reduce the intensity and rate of spread of bushfires, and under heightened fire behaviour, they provide much needed space for firefighters to expand their bushfire response. They’re a strategy NPWS uses to plan for the emergency management stages of ‘Preparedness’ and ‘Response’ and to enhance other fire management strategies and tactics.

    Examples include rapid access with shorter response time to a fire to start suppressing it in its early stages. Backburning from an existing and safe operating area, without the need for heavy machinery to implement a control line during a bushfire. Strategic advantage for aircraft to use if a break/track exists as the vegetation is already modified. This reduces fire intensity under most conditions and so it’s safer for aircraft to use. Increased safety for firefighters through easier access and egress on a fire ground compromised by reduced visibility at night or in heavy smoke; increased view of the fire ground through good design to enhance situational awareness with views to the horizon and upcoming terrain; and the ability to rapidly depart a fire ground in changing conditions. Poorly designed tracks can be dangerous. Safer for other ‘Preparedness’ strategies such as modifying fuel loads with prescribed burns and/or mechanical and chemical treatment; and easier to actively patrol areas on days of heightened fire danger.

    Do we need more fuel breaks or fire access tracks?

    If more fuel breaks/tracks are required, then where possible, they’ll align with control lines created during the 2019-20 bushfires, along with older disused control lines or access tracks, to have the least long-term impact on the environment. The total length for the four proposed fire access tracks in Ravine des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area is approximately 35km, using approximately 31.5km of existing bulldozed control lines and historical tracks. New track clearance would consist of 2.45 hectares in a reserve that has a total area of 41,360 hectares, or just 0.006%.

    Fire access tracks will be also gated to prevent public access, helping to minimise weed incursions and the spread of pathogens. All tracks follow State Bushfire Coordination Committee guidelines such as width and including erosion control measures in the design. In addition, an environmental assessment is part of fire management treatment activity process, in which an ecologist will determine the activities effect on the environment and develop strategies to reduce the impact.

    In general, any fuel break or fire access track comes with some environmental impacts such as loss of vegetation; ability to increase soil compaction and erosion; and increased potential for weeds, predators, and pathogens. That’s why the potential impact on native animals and plants is assessed and work on fire access tracks will use sensitive and sustainable design, which considers these issues. 

    These impacts are weighed up against the wider benefit that tracks can provide in reducing bushfire spread and its impact on the environment.

    How effective is prescribed burning?

    Fire modelling and observation of many of the bushfires experienced over the past ~10 years have demonstrated the effectiveness of prescribed burning and provided evidence for its importance in reducing the impact of bushfires on communities and the environment. It is also an important tool in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity with many vegetation types requiring periodic fire to maintain healthy ecosystems.

    Prescribed burns won’t stop all bushfires, but they may limit their spread and impact, and make them easier and safer to suppress. Each prescribed burn has a fixed period of effectiveness and is site specific.

    There’s debate amongst fire management authorities, fire scientists, ecologists, and the community around how effective prescribed burning is. A background paper by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, representing findings from a selection of scientific papers, reported that reducing fuels can slow the initial rate of fire spread and intensity, provide opportunities to suppress fires and reduce the risk of them escalating into extreme events.

    However, under extreme and catastrophic weather conditions, fuel loads may have less impact on fire behaviour. But as the commission reported, these elevated conditions don’t persist, and opportunities to suppress the fire in areas previously managed with prescribed burns can then occur as the weather moderates.

    While there’s a range of views on prescribed burning, NPWS is committed to the nationally-agreed position.

    Can Aboriginal Cultural burning help with fire management?

    First Nations’ People and Groups of South Australia have an ongoing cultural relationship and responsibility to care for Country. It’s the right of every First Nation Group to self-determine their aspirations regarding cultural activities, including fire management. Aboriginal fire management in South Australia’s national parks continues in some areas while the impact of colonisation has seen a decline or discontinuation in others. NPWS is committed to working with, and learning from, First Nations People to understand Cultural fire in the landscape.

    Prescribed burning and Aboriginal fire management are both driven by the protection of assets or values and managing landscape or Country to maintain or enhance the attributes we value the most. Only First Nation Groups can undertake this burning, and only where appropriate are non-Aboriginal organisations such as NPWS able to support the activities. No cultural burns have been identified as part of this fire management plan.