Fire managers face a multitude of competing priorities when considering how to reduce losses from future fires. With limited funds, an increasing population to protect from bushfire, and more people living in bushfire-prone areas, fire managers face a significant resource-allocation challenge. Knowing which risk-mitigation strategies provide the best value for money is therefore of great benefit.
This research by Professor David Pannell and Research Assistant Professor Fiona Gibson at the University of Western Australia, investigated the value for money of prescribed burning in two case study locations: Central Otago in New Zealand and the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia.
This study used quantitative analysis that integrated information about risk, management strategies, costs, and values in a spatial context, with high levels of stakeholder consultation. The results highlight the fire risk management strategies (including prescribed burning) that are likely to produce the highest benefit per dollar spent.
Results show that various bushfire risk-management strategies have potential to generate benefits when applied in a targeted way. In general, strategies that require implementation over large areas have high costs and are unlikely to provide value for money unless they can generate exceptional levels of fire prevention. The majority of benefits were generated from strategies that were applied within or close to the valuable assets.
For the Central Otago case study, the prescribed burning strategies favoured by some stakeholders were shown by the model to be a poor investment. Instead, strategies that reduced the number of fires starting within the town itself were the best value. In the Mount Lofty Ranges case study, the findings complemented other studies that showed that reducing vegetation cover close to high valued assets was more valuable.
The researchers noted that these were specific pilot studies and generalisations about prescribed burning for other areas should not be drawn from these studies. But both studies show that the methodology works, and it can be used to provide valuable decision-making inputs to fire management programs.
PhD research by Veronique Florec (University of Western Australia) also helped to inform decision-making, investigating what is the optimum amount of money to spend on prescribed burning to see a meaningful result in the reduction of fires or the amount of money spent on suppression. She found that a wide range of strategies are near optimal in terms of minimising total costs.