Prescribed Burning

Fire can be used as a tool in landscape management for two main intents: to control fire risk and the intensity of wildfires, and to manage landscape structure and biodiversity. Prescribed fires are often used as a preventive measure to control fuel load and fire intensity (e.g. Fernandes 2013). In addition, the combination of different fire regimes can be used to maintain landscape heterogeneity and habitat for species dependent on different ecosystem successional stages (Driscoll et al. 2010). In regions where fire risk and shrub encroachment are paired threats to biodiversity conservation, fire can be used as a tool to approach both problems (Moreira and Russo 2007).

Nonetheless, the use of prescribed fires can also raise some conservation issues. For instance, prescribed fires are performed during the wet season (winter to spring) when there is a low risk of fire spreading, while natural fires occur during dry days, especially in summer. This divergence in fire season can negatively impact species that reproduce in spring (van Andel and Aronson 2012), such as ground nesting birds, but also the persistence of plant species, for example by causing premature

Table 8.2  Population trends for large herbivores in Europe and main reasons for recovery of the populations. (Based on Deinet et al. 2013)

a Some population estimates are obtained by summing values of national assessments performed in different years, hence a time interval instead of a year of assessment in some cases

b Ranking based on Deinet et al. (2013), with “1” being the most relevant and “4” the least relevant. The number of observed causes of increase varies from species to species

seed release, or by destroying seedlings of annual plants before they create a seed bank (Whelan 1995; Bowman et al. 2013). Another issue is the implications of prescribed fires for climate change mitigation. Large scale prescribed fires may aggravate climate change, due to the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosol particles (Russell-Smith et al. 2009; Fernandes et al. 2013). While more research is needed to understand the effects of prescribed burning on carbon cycle (Fernandes 2013), it is also accepted that well planned prescribed burning prevents larger losses of carbon to the atmosphere by reducing wildfire risk (Bowman et al. 2013; Fernandes 2013). Finally, defining the regime of prescribed fires can be challenging (Whelan 1995; van Andel and Aronson 2012). Replicating natural fire regimes may not be possible, due to the lack of historic information. It may even not be advisable, given changes in landscape structure and, in some areas, in local climate, which may lead to unpredicted responses to fire (Driscoll et al. 2010). Therefore induced fire regimes should be planned to meet the desired outcomes instead of trying to mimic the parameters of natural fire regimes (Whelan 1995). In particular, in a rewilding context, fire dynamics should only be managed, or “assisted” in the early stages post-abandonment in order to facilitate the restoration of natural fire regimes.

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