B&Bs for birds and bees: transform your garden or balcony into a wildlife haven



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NC

Judith Friedlander, University of Technology Sydney

Just like humans, animals like living near coastal plains and waterways. In fact, cities such as Sydney and Melbourne are “biodiversity hotspots” – boasting fresh water, varied topographies and relatively rich soil to sustain and nourish life.

Recent research showed urban areas can support a greater range of animals and insects than some bushland and rural habitat, if we revegetate with biodiversity in mind.




Read more:
How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires


Urban regeneration is especially important now, amid unfathomable estimates that more than one billion animals were killed in the recent bushfires. Even before the fires, we were in the middle of a mass extinction event in Australia and around the world.

Losing animals, especially pollinators such as bees, has huge implications for biodiversity and food supplies.

My team and I are creating a B&B Highway – a series of nest boxes, artificial hollows and pollinating plants – in Sydney and coastal urban areas of New South Wales. These essentially act as “bed and breakfasts” where creatures such as birds, bees, butterflies and bats can rest and recharge. Everyday Australians can also build a B&B in their own backyards or on balconies.

City living for climate refugees

I spoke to Charles Sturt University ecologist Dr Watson about the importance of protecting animals such as pollinators during the climate crisis. He said:

The current drought has devastated inland areas – anything that can move has cleared out, with many birds and other mobile animals retreating to the wetter, more temperate forests to the south and east.

So, when considering the wider impacts of these fires […] we need to include these climate refugees in our thinking.

Native birds like the white-winged triller have been spotted in urban areas.
Shutterstock

Many woodland birds such as honeyeaters and parrots have moved in droves to cities, including Sydney, over the last few years because of droughts and climate change, attracted to the rich variety of berries, fruits and seeds.

I also spoke to BirdLife Australia’s Holly Parsons, who said last year’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count recorded other inland birds – such as the white-winged triller, the crimson chat, pied honeyeater, rainforest pigeons and doves – outside their usual range, attracted to the richer food variety in coastal cities.




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To save these threatened seahorses, we built them 5-star underwater hotels


What’s more, there have been increased sightings of powerful owls in Sydney and Melbourne, squirrel gliders in Albury, marbled geckos in Melbourne, and blue-tongue lizards in urban gardens across south-east Australia.

With so many birds and pollinators flocking to the cities, it’s important we support them with vegetated regions they can shelter in, such as through the B&B Highway we’re developing.

The B&B Highway: an urban restoration project

B&Bs on our “highway” are green sanctuaries, containing pollinating plants, water and shelters such as beehives and nesting boxes.




Read more:
Spiders are threatened by climate change – and even the biggest arachnophobes should be worried


We’re setting up B&Bs across New South Wales in schools and community centres, with plans to expand them in Melbourne, Brisbane and other major cities. In fact, by mid-2020, we’ll have 30 B&Bs located across five different Sydney municipalities, with more planned outside Sydney.

The NSW Department of Education is also developing an associated curriculum for primary and early high school students to engage them in ecosystem restoration.

One of the biodiversity havens the author developed to attract pollinators.
Author provided

If you have space in your garden, or even on a balcony, you can help too. Here’s how.

For birds

Find out what bird species live in your area and which are endangered using the Birdata directory. Then select plants native to your area – your local nursery can help you out here.

The type of plants will vary on whether your local birds feed on insects, nectar, seed, fruit or meat. Use the guide below.



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

More tips

Plant dense shrubs to allow smaller birds, such as the superb fairy-wren, to hide from predatory birds.

Order hollows and nesting boxes from La Trobe University to house birds, possums, gliders and bats.

Put out water for birds, insects and other animals. Bird baths should be elevated to enable escape from predators. Clean water stations and bowls regularly.

For native stingless bees

If you live on the eastern seaboard from Sydney northward, consider installing a native stingless beehive. They require very little maintenance, and no permits or special training.

These bees are perfect for garden pollination. Suppliers of bees and hives can be found online – sometimes you can even rescue an endangered hive.

A blue banded bee at a B&B rest stops in NSW.
Author provided

Also add bee-friendly plants – sting or no sting – to your garden, such as butterfly bush, bottlebrush, daisies, eucalyptus and angophora gum trees, grevillea, lavender, tea tree, honey myrtle and native rosemary.

For other insects

Wherever you are in Australia, you can buy or make your own insect hotel. There is no standard design, because our gardens host a wide range of native insects partial to different natural materials.

An insect hotel. Note the holes, at a variety of depths, drilled into the material.
Dietmar Rabich/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Building your insect hotel

Use recycled materials (wooden pallets, small wooden box or frames) or natural materials (wood, bamboo, sticks, straw, stones and clay).

Fill gaps in the structure with smaller materials, such as clay and bamboo.

In the wood, drill holes ranging from three to ten millimetres wide for insects to live in. Vary hole depths for different insects – but don’t drill all the way through. They shouldn’t be deeper than 30 centimetres.

Give your hotel a roof so it stays dry, and don’t use toxic paints or varnishes.

Place your insect hotel in a sheltered spot, with the opening facing the sun in cool climates, and facing the morning sun in warmer climates.

Apartment-dwellers can place their insect hotels on a balcony near pot plants. North-facing is often best, but make sure it’s sheltered from harsh afternoon sunshine and heavy rain.The Conversation

Judith Friedlander, Post-graduate Researcher, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs


David Lindenmayer, Australian National University and Doug Robinson, La Trobe University

New South Wales’ Forestry Corporation will this week start “selective timber harvesting” from two state forests ravaged by bushfire on the state’s south coast.

The state-owned company says the operations will be “strictly managed” and produce timber for power poles, bridges, flooring and decking.

Similarly, the Victorian government’s logging company VicForests recently celebrated the removal of sawlogs from burnt forests in East Gippsland.

VicForests says it did not cut down the trees – they were cut or pushed over by the army, firefighters or road crews because they blocked the rood or were dangerous. The company said it simply removed the logs to put them “to good use”.

However the science on the impacts of post-fire logging is clear: it can significantly impair the recovery of burned ecosystems, badly affect wildlife and, for some animal species, prevent recovery.

We acknowledge that for safety reasons, some standing and fallen burnt trees must be removed after a fire. But wherever possible, they should remain in place.

Damaging effects

Hollows in fire-damaged trees and logs provide critical habitat for animal species trying to survive in, or recolonise, burned forests.

Detailed studies around the world over the past 20 years, including in Australia, have demonstrated the damage caused by post-fire logging.

Indeed, the research shows post-fire logging is the most damaging form of logging. Logging large old trees after a fire may make the forests unsuitable habitat for many wildlife species for up to 200 years.




Read more:
Buzz off honey industry, our national parks shouldn’t be milked for money


Long-term monitoring data from extensive field surveys shows hollow-dependent mammals, such as the vulnerable greater glider, generally do not survive in areas burned and then logged. Research by the lead author, soon to be published, shows populations are declining rapidly in landscapes dominated by wood production.

Forests logged after a fire have the lowest bird biodiversity relative to other forests, including those that burned at high severity (but which remain unlogged). Critical plants such as tree ferns are all but eradicated from forests that have been burned and then logged.

Soils remain extensively altered for many decades after post-fire logging. This is a major concern because runoff into rivers and streams damages aquatic ecosystems and kills organisms such as fish.

A double disturbance

Fire badly disrupts forest ecosystems. Animals and plants then begin recovering, but most forests and the biota they support simply cannot deal with the second intense disturbance of logging so soon after a first one.

For example, young germinating plants are highly vulnerable to being flattened and destroyed by heavy logging machinery. And in an Australian context, post-fire logging makes no sense in the majority of eucalypt-dominated ecosystems where many tree species naturally resprout. This is an essential part of forest recovery.

Logs provide shade, moisture and shelter for plants, and rotting timber is food for insects – which in turn provide food for mammals and birds.




Read more:
Logged native forests mostly end up in landfill, not in buildings and furniture


Living and dead trees are also important for fungi — a food source for many animals, including bandicoots and potoroos which have been heavily impacted by the fires.

Similarly on burnt private land, removing damaged and fallen trees will only hinder natural recovery by removing important animal habitat and disturbing the soil. If left, fallen trees will provide refuge for surviving wildlife and enable the natural recovery of forests.

While the sight of burnt timber can be disheartening, landholders should resist the urge to “clean up”.

It doesn’t add up

Research in North America suggests debris such as tree heads, branches and other vegetation left by post-fire logging not only hinders forest regeneration, but can make forests more prone to fire.

And the economics of logging, particular after a fire, is dubious at best. Many native forest logging operations, such as in Victoria’s East Gippsland, are unprofitable, losing millions of taxpayer dollars annually.




Read more:
Yes, the Australian bush is recovering from bushfires – but it may never be the same


Timber is predominantly sold cheaply for use as woodchips and paper pulp and fire-damaged timber is of particularly poor quality. Even before the fires, 87% of all native forest logged in Victoria was for woodchips and paper pulp.

Post-fire logging certainly has no place in national parks. But for the reasons we’ve outlined, it should be avoided even in state forests and on private land. Million hectares of vegetation in Australia was damaged or destroyed this fire season. The last thing our forests need is yet more disturbance.


VicForests response: VicForests told The Conversation that timber currently being removed by VicForests, at the direction of the Chief Fire Officer, is from hazardous trees that were cut or knocked over to enable the Princes Highway to be re-opened.

It said the timber would be used for fence restoration, firewood and to support local mills “protecting jobs, incomes and families. It would otherwise be left in piles on the side of the highway”.

“Any further post-fire recovery harvesting will occur in consultation with government including biodiversity specialists and the conservation regulator, following careful assessment and protection of high conservation values,” VicForests said.

The company said post-fire recovery harvesting, particularly of fire-killed trees, does not increase fire risk.

“Sensitive harvesting including the retention of habitat trees and active re-seeding is more likely to result in a successfully regenerated forest and a supportive environment for threatened species. This regenerating forest will have the same fire risk as natural regeneration following bushfire.”


Forestry Corporation of NSW response: Forestry Corporation of NSW said in a statement that small-scale selective timber harvesting operation will begin on the south coast this week.

The company’s senior planning manager Dean Kearney said the Environment Protection Authority, with the input of scientific experts “has provided Forestry Corporation with site-specific conditions for selective timber harvesting operations in designated parts of Mogo and South Brooman State Forests. These areas were previously set aside for timber production this year but have now been impacted by fire.”

“Strictly-managed selective timber harvesting will help prevent the loss of some high-quality timber damaged by fire, including material that will be in high demand for rebuilding, while ensuring the right protections are in place for key environmental values, particularly wildlife habitat, as these forests begin regenerating,” he said.

“The harvesting conditions augment the already strict rule set in place for forest operations and include requirements to leave all unburnt forest untouched and establish even more stringent conditions to protect water quality, hollow-bearing trees and wildlife habitat.”The Conversation

David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Doug Robinson, Honorary Visiting Fellow, Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want to help save wildlife after the fires? You can do it in your own backyard


Holly Kirk, RMIT University; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; Casey Visintin, University of Melbourne; Freya Thomas, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, RMIT University; Kirsten Parris, University of Melbourne; Kylie Soanes, University of Melbourne; Pia Lentini, University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University

People living in cities far from the unprecedented bushfires this summer may feel they can do little more to help beyond donating to organisations that support affected wildlife. But this is not necessarily the case: ten of the 113 top-priority threatened animal species most affected by the fires have populations in and around Australian cities and towns. Conserving these populations is now even more critical for the survival of these species.

Here we provide various practical tips on things people can do in their own backyards and neighbourhoods to help some of the species hit hard by the fires.




Read more:
The 39 endangered species in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and other Australian cities


Wildlife may arrive in your neighbourhood in search of resources lost to fire or drought in their ranges. Cities can become ecological traps, as they draw animals towards sub-optimal habitats or even death from threats such as cats and cars. But by providing the right resources, removing threats and connecting your backyard to surrounding habitat, you can turn your property into a refuge, not a trap.

Images from Flickr by: Jarod Lyon (Macquarie perch), Doug Beckers (Giant burrowing frog), eyeweed (Giant barred frog), Catching The Eye (Southern water skink), Alan Couch (Broad-headed snake), Brian McCauley (Regent honeyeater), Ron Knight (Koala), Duncan PJ (Grey-headed flying fox), Tony Morris (Platypus) and Pierre Pouliquin (Tiger quoll).
Author provided

The fires killed an estimated 1 billion animals and Australia’s threatened species list is likely to expand dramatically. As is often the case, the impacts on invertebrates have been largely ignored so far.




Read more:
Conservation scientists are grieving after the bushfires — but we must not give up


Thinking outside the animal box

Despite the focus on animals, it is plants, making up 1,336 of the 1,790 species listed as threatened, that have been hit hardest. Early estimates are that the fires had severe impacts on 272 threatened plant species. Of these, 100 are thought to have had more than half of their remaining range burnt.

The impacts on individual plant species is profoundly saddening, but the impacts on whole ecosystems can be even more catastrophic. Repeated fires in quick succession in fire-sensitive ecosystems, such as alpine-ash forests, can lead to loss of the keystone tree species. These trees are unable to mature and set seed in less than 20 years.

Losing the dominant trees leads to radical changes that drive many other species to extinction in an extinction cascade. Other badly impacted ecosystems include relics of ancient rainforests, which might not survive the deadly combination of drought and fire.




Read more:
A season in hell: bushfires push at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction


It is difficult to know how best to “rescue” threatened plants, particularly when we know little about them. Seed banks and propagation of plants in home gardens can be a last resort for some species.

You can help by growing plants that are indigenous to your local area. Look for an indigenous nursery near you that can provide advice on their care. Advocate for mainstream nurseries, your council and schools to make indigenous plants available to buy and be grown in public areas.

Example of alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) forest in Victoria.
Holly Kirk

Providing for urban wildlife

Planting native species in your backyard is also the best way to provide food for visiting wildlife. Many species feed on flower nectar, or on the insects the vegetation attracts. Putting out dishes of fruit or bird feeders can be useful for some species, but the best way to provide extra food for all is by gardening.

Plants also provide shelter and nest sites, so think twice about removing vegetation, leaf litter and dead wood. Fire risk can be managed by selecting species that are fire-suppressing.

Urban gardens also provide water for many thirsty creatures. If you put out a container of water, place rocks and branches inside so small critters can escape if they fall in.




Read more:
You can leave water out for wildlife without attracting mosquitoes, if you take a few precautions


Backyard ponds can provide useful habitat for some frog species, particularly if you live near a stream or wetland. Please don’t add goldfish!

The best frog ponds have plants at the edges and emerging from the water, providing calling sites for males and shelter for all. Insecticides and herbicides harm frogs as well as insects and plants, so it’s best not to use these in your garden.

Piles of rocks in the garden form important shelters for lizards and small mammals.

Reducing threats

It’s important to consider threats too. Cats kill native wildlife in huge numbers. Keep your pet inside or in a purpose-built “catio”.


Read more: For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day

Read more: A hidden toll: Australia’s cats kill almost 650 million reptiles a year


When driving, think about killing your speed rather than wildlife – especially while populations are moving out of fire-affected areas in search of food. Slowing down can greatly reduce animal strikes.

With the loss of huge areas of forest, species like grey-headed flying foxes will need to supplement their diet with fruit from our backyards. Unfortunately, they risk being entangled in tree netting. If you have fruit trees, consider sharing with wildlife by removing nets, or using fine mesh bags to cover only select bunches or branches.




Read more:
Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying-foxes in urban Australia


Living with the new visitors

People have different levels of knowledge about our native wildlife, and some will be more affected by new wildlife visitors than others. Some of these critters are small and quiet. Others are more conspicuous and may even be considered a nuisance.

Try to discuss what you are seeing and experiencing with your neighbours. When you can, provide information that might ease their concerns, but also be sympathetic if noisy or smelly residents move in. It is important to tolerate and co-exist with wildlife, by acknowledging they might not conform to neighbourly conventions.

Given the unprecedented extent and intensity of these fires, it is difficult for scientists to predict how wildlife will respond and what might show up where. This is especially the case for species, like the regent honeyeater, that migrate in response to changing resources. New data will be invaluable in helping us understand and plan for future events like these.

If you do see an animal that seems unusual, you can report it through citizen-science schemes such as iNaturalist. If an animal is injured or in distress it’s best to contact a wildlife rescue organisation such as Wildlife Victoria or WIRES (NSW).




Read more:
How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires


Our wildlife is under pressure now, but we can help many populations by ensuring safer cities for the species that share them with us.

Resources

How to help birds after the fires

Other threatened species in cities

Wildlife-friendly fencing

Find your local native nursery

Learn about platypus-safe yabby nets

Record your bird sightings

Record your frog sightings

Record other urban wildlifeThe Conversation

Holly Kirk, Postdoctoral Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University; Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Casey Visintin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Freya Thomas, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, Senior Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, RMIT University; Kirsten Parris, Professor of Urban Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Kylie Soanes, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Pia Lentini, Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires



Building one of these watering pods can help thirsty wildlife, but it must be checked for safety and hygiene, and refilled regularly.
Arid Recovery

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University, and Euan Ritchie, Deakin University

Since July last year, bushfires have burned more than 7.7 million hectares of southeast Australia, putting many threatened species at increased risk of extinction.

Now that fires have been extinguished in some areas, surviving wildlife face other challenges, such as a lack of food, clean water and shelter, and more exposure to invasive predators.




Read more:
These plants and animals are now flourishing as life creeps back after bushfires


Australians have helped raise millions of dollars to support Australia’s imperilled wildlife, such as to set up triage centres and evacuate threatened species like eastern bristlebirds and Macquarie perch.

But beyond the vital role of providing financial support, here are a few simple things individuals can do – and avoid – to help our native wildlife recover.

Giving koala water from a drink bottle can kill them.
Sunrise on Seven/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Animals need fresh water, but not from a bottle

Photos of well-meaning people offering water from bottles to animals, especially thirsty koalas, often go viral online. But this is not a safe way to help koalas.

Animals must be allowed to drink water themselves, rather than us pouring water into their mouths. Animals, such as koalas, can’t drink quickly and poured water can fill their lungs, leading to potentially fatal aspiration pneumonia.

A koala at a bushfire wildlife triage centre. You can give koalas water to lap themselves from a dish, rather than pouring water into their mouths.
Zoos Victoria, Author provided

Still, providing safe, fresh drinking water is one crucial and practical way we can help them as summer grinds on.

This is particularly important since recent storms have washed ash, sediment and chemicals from burnt infrastructure into waterways, contaminating many catchments.

Water should be stationed at ground level, in a shaded location safe from predators, and in trees for birds and tree-dwelling species like possums, gliders and koalas. Check out DIY guides for building drinking fountains, or “watering pods”, for wildlife.

Sticks and rocks should be placed in the water to allow small species, such as reptiles, to climb out if they fall in. Water must be checked and changed regularly to ensure hygiene and avoid the spread of disease. And pets must be kept away from these locations (especially cats).

Watering pod animals.
Arid Recovery

What to do if you spot injured wildlife by the road

Authorities are searching the fire grounds for injured animals, and the public is reminded to avoid these areas until they’re confirmed as safe to enter.

But if you happen upon an injured survivor, what should you do?

First of all, call government agencies or trained wildlife rescuers, who can assist any injured wildlife.

Many animals may be in pain and frightened and some, including kangaroos, koalas and wombats, are potentially dangerous if approached. In urgent cases, such as when an animal is in obvious distress or has clear injuries, some animals can be carefully caught and wrapped in a towel, then placed in a well-ventilated, dark and secure box for quiet transport to wildlife veterinary hospitals for care.

Sadly, many animals are hit by cars during fires when they’re disoriented and panicked, and so it’s important to slow down in such areas.

You can also check animals found by roads for injuries and surviving young in pouches, and call authorities to assist. But always be careful of traffic when attending to animals on roadsides, and help other drivers be aware of you by putting hazard lights on and wearing bright clothes.

Don’t feed native wildlife, especially not peanut butter mixes

With so much vegetation burned away, supplementary feeding has gained attention following fires in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

But feeding wildlife without expert advice and legal approval can do more harm than good.

Feeding inappropriate foods like processed foods, over-feeding, providing unhygienic foods or food stations, and attracting predators to food stations, can all be fatal for native wildlife.




Read more:
Fire almost wiped out rare species in the Australian Alps. Feral horses are finishing the job


Even some foods suggested online, such as bait balls (peanut butter mixes), can cause gastrointestinal issues for wildlife, potentially killing them. Similar issues can arise if wildlife are given some types of hay, vegetables, seeds, and fruits.

Supplementary feeding isn’t advised unless habitat and sources of food have been completely destroyed, and is only appropriate as a short-term emergency intervention until natural resources recover.

But leave it up to the experts and government agencies, which provide nutritionally suitable, specially developed and monitored food in extreme cases.

Somewhere to run and hide

In some cases, fire may mean native animals are more prone to predators killing and eating them. And, depending on the habitat, it may take months or even years for plants and animals’ homes to recover sufficiently to provide safety once again.

However, new approaches – such as building artificial shelters out of fencing wire and shade cloth – may help to buy species time, keeping small mammals, reptiles and other potential prey safe from hungry mouths. This could occur both on private and public land.

Artificial refuges to provide wildlife with shelter and protection from predators after fire.
Tim Doherty (Deakin University)

Show wildlife the money

Caring for wildlife after fires, whether they’re injured or have lost their homes, is a marathon, not a sprint. And given the scale of these fires, our wild neighbours need our increased support.

Often, the most helpful thing people can do is raise and donate funds to organisations, including Zoos Victoria and the Ecological Society of Australia.




Read more:
To save these threatened seahorses, we built them 5-star underwater hotels


Some wildife species, such as bristlebirds, corroboree frogs, and mountain pygmy-possums, are being pushed to the brink of extinction and may need long-term captive breeding and release programs, or investment in active management of wild populations (such as the newly constructed feral predator-free area for Kangaroo Island dunnarts).

We can all help to make a difference and protect our remarkable and unique wildlife that so desperately needs our help.The Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Dale Nimmo, Associate professor/ARC DECRA fellow, Charles Sturt University, and Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The burn legacy: why the science on hazard reduction is contested


Kevin Tolhurst, University of Melbourne

When it comes to reducing the extent of bushfires, scientists disagree on the best way to do it. Hazard-reduction burning (also known as “prescribed burning” or “controlled burning”) is controversial and, depending on the scientific paper, it’s shown to either be effective or not work at all.

Hazard-reduction burning is the process of removing vegetation that would fuel a fire – the “hazard” – through burning, slashing or grazing. It’s one of the ways state governments try to prepare for looming bushfire seasons.




Read more:
There’s no evidence ‘greenies’ block bushfire hazard reduction but here’s a controlled burn idea worth trying


The Climate Council published a fact sheet in January this year titled “Setting the record straight on hazard reduction”. It concluded that, while important, in future “no amount of hazard reduction will protect human lives, animals and properties from catastrophic fires”.

But this is at odds with empirical studies in Victoria and Western Australia, which found otherwise, after taking a wider view on the issue.

So why are there conflicting views?

Hazard-reduction burns don’t help: a 2015 study

For its report, the Climate Council relied heavily on a 2015 study based on fire and weather records from southeastern Australia over a period of 34 years. This is a relatively short time when it comes to ecosystem cycles – the earth’s natural recycling process of resources like water and carbon.

The researchers of this study used a metric called “leverage” to evaluate the effect of hazard-reduction burning on reducing the extent of wildfires. “Leverage” in this context refers to the ratio between the area burnt by wildfires and the area burnt by prescribed burning.

And they concluded hazard-reduction burning has a statistically significant effect on the extent of wildfires, but only in forested areas with distinct annual drought periods.




Read more:
A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire


The leverage measure implies that prescribed burning only increases the total area burnt, and is therefore ineffective in reducing fire extent.

Like all scientific papers, the conclusions of the 2015 paper are drawn from several assumptions. And while the conclusions are valid for the researchers’ focus, several assumptions don’t work in a land management context. For instance, it’s assumed only the extent of the area burnt is important, rather than the severity.

But the recovery of the plants, animals, nutrients and habitat after low-intensity fire is much quicker than after high-intensity wildfire, according to a long-term Victorian study.

Several other assumptions were also made in the 2015 study, and it is such assumptions that lead to conflicting conclusions with others. While this study is valid within the context in which it was undertaken and includes useful analysis, the conclusions the Climate Council draws from it aren’t supported.

Hazard-reduction burns do help: a 2009 study

A 2009 study looking at 52 years of fire history in southwest Western Australia identified the benefits of hazard-reduction burns. This includes it leading to fewer fires starting and a greater ability to suppress fires in prescribed burnt areas.

A big reason for the different findings is because, unlike the 2009 study, the 2015 study didn’t explicitly consider how past prescribed burns lower the severity of new high-intensity fires when they move in. This helps fire suppression efforts and helps reduce the spread of wildfires.

The 2009 study showed prescribed burning less than about 4% of a million hectares of forested landscape per year wasn’t enough to show trends in reducing wildfires.




Read more:
There’s only one way to make bushfires less powerful: take out the stuff that burns


But in the 2015 study the Climate Council used, only included 2% of prescribed burning in the forested landscape of southeast Australia, so a conclusion that prescribed burning was ineffective could have been expected.

In other words, not enough of the landscape was prescribed burnt to have a measureable effect, so it cannot be concluded that prescribed burning is ineffective at reducing the impact of bushfires from this analysis.

The Climate Council should have taken a broader view of the available scientific studies before drawing its conclusions.

So should we use hazard-reduction burns?

There are many dimensions to the debate about whether to use hazard-reduction burns to mitigate and prepare for wildfires. And not all scientific studies will be equally relevant in addressing particular issues.




Read more:
To fight the catastrophic fires of the future, we need to look beyond prescribed burning


So before we decide whether hazard-reduction burning for land management is a good thing, we need to consider all of the variables. This includes increased ecosystem resilience, mitigation of wildfire number and extent, impact on human health, economic value, social impact, Traditional Owner culture, and more.

The Climate Council’s conclusions are drawn only from the consideration of reduced wildfire extent.

In debating the value or otherwise of prescribed burning, we need to use good scientific evidence, but our decisions must be based on the whole picture, not just a selective part of it.The Conversation

Kevin Tolhurst, Hon. Assoc. Prof., Fire Ecology and Management, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

I made bushfire maps from satellite data, and found a glaring gap in Australia’s preparedness



Image courtesy of Greg Harvie, Author provided

Wallace Boone Law, University of Adelaide

On the night of January 9 2020, my wife and I secured our Kangaroo Island home and anxiously monitored the South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) website for bushfire advice.

After many horrific weeks of bushfires, the winds had again shifted, and the fire front began a slow, nightmarish march eastward into the island’s central farmlands. Official warnings advised that the entire island was potentially under threat.

Landsat-8 false colour image of southwest Kangaroo Island, showing active bushfires on January 9, 2020.
Landsat-8, Author provided

As my good neighbours and volunteer firefighters headed off to battle the flames elsewhere on the island, I desperately wanted to find a way to help. With no firefighting training, I felt I physically had little to offer. But I reasoned that my skills and training in remote sensing and spatial science could potentially turn satellite information into useful maps to track the fires, in more detail than those provided by the Country Fire Service and Geoscience Australia.




Read more:
‘This crisis has been unfolding for years’: 4 photos of Australia from space, before and after the bushfires


While I was ultimately successful, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as I thought. And what I learned about access to good-quality and up-to-date satellite bushfire information surprised me.

Free satellite imagery is abundant; useful information is not

In principle, there are many good sources of free satellite imagery. But selecting, sourcing, understanding and processing a multilayered satellite image into an accurate burnt area map takes technical know-how that is beyond the reach of the people who need it the most.

We are fortunate to live in a time where satellite images are constantly uploaded to the web, often within hours of acquisition. There are many reputable sources for this information, including NASA Worldview, USGS Earth Explorer, USGS LandLook Viewer, and the Sentinel EO Browser.

These websites are gateways to the world of “big satellite data”, and I quickly found myself on a steep learning curve to efficiently navigate them and find recent imagery.

Once downloaded, the next hurdle I faced was how to process a data-rich satellite image into a meaningful and accurate map of the bushfire area. I scoured the internet for “how to” blogs, academic articles, spatial algorithms, and processing codes; these too are the products of much intellectual investment by global scientists, openly and freely available.

As a spatial scientist, I naturally found all this fascinating. But as a resident of an island under assault from bushfires, I also found it frustratingly time-consuming. I crashed my computer testing algorithms. I maxed out my hard drive. I spent hours on possibilities that turned out to be dead ends.

True colour satellite imagery is often the most accessible and easily understood, but it often lacks sufficient detail to clearly identify burnt areas. In this Sentinel-2 true colour image, approximately 210,000 hectares are burnt, but bushfire-impacted areas are barely visible without advanced image processing.
Sentinel-2, Author provided

Maps help to fight fires and recover from them

In the end, I produced burnt area maps from Sentinel and Landsat satellite images captured during the fires. I learned that this kind of information can indeed help firefighting and ecological recovery efforts, both during and after bushfires.

Initially I gave the maps to a group of farming friends who had been fighting fires around their properties for weeks. They told me the maps helped save time in assessing which areas had already burned, allowing them to focus on defending unburnt areas, and to make decisions on where to move livestock and install firebreaks.

The positive feedback inspired me to customise my processing techniques, so I could provide updates more quickly when new satellite images became available.

I embedded appropriate safety disclaimers into the maps and released them on Twitter and Spatial Points, a blog site managed by my research group at the University of Adelaide.

Within hours, I received messages that the maps were being used for ecological recovery efforts. The maps successfully highlighted remaining patches of habitat where endangered and vulnerable species had found refuge. Several government agencies even contacted me for burnt area information, which I’m told was used to assess infrastructure damage and habitat loss.

Processed Sentinel-2 satellite image. Red areas suggest burnt vegetation. Variation in red hues are caused by dominant vegetation type and soils.
Sentinel-2/W. Boone Law, Author provided

National knowledge gap

My experience shows there is a swag of free and regularly updated satellite imagery available, which when interpreted and presented appropriately can potentially be hugely helpful to firefighting and recovery efforts.

However, I am concerned that neither the general public nor decision-makers seem fully aware of the range of satellite information on offer. Nor is there a good understanding of the advanced technical skills needed to access and process imagery into useful map data.




Read more:
Yes, the Australian bush is recovering from bushfires – but it may never be the same


This leads me to wonder whether I have stumbled upon a glaring knowledge gap in Australia’s bushfire preparedness.

How can we overcome this technological and information bottleneck? I don’t propose to have all the answers, but I do believe it would be sensible for governments, industry and research agencies to invest in the kind of capabilities that I developed while trying to protect my own local community.

As Australia faces a future of more frequent and extreme bushfires, there will doubtless be many people who would be glad of this kind of information when they need it most.The Conversation

Wallace Boone Law, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.