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Fire impacts

Fire is a naturally occurring element of many tropical forests and from a human perspective has positive and negative impacts depending on the values and intensity of effects generated.

Fires in forests impact on;

(i) human lives, assets and values; and
(ii) ecological processes and ecosystem structure, species composition, age and function.
Fire management practices reflect a range of potentially conflicting objectives in an attempt to reduce the undesirable
impacts on these values.

Impacts on people

While bushfires affect the health of forests in both positive and negative ways, their impact on human communities is usually characterised as negative because of the damage they can do to buildings, fences, bridges, power lines, water supplies and streams and commercial timber assets.

fire impact

Impacts on ecological values
The degree of impact of fire on a forest ecosystem is variable. The rate of recovery after fire varies with the type of vegetation, and the intensity, season and history of previous fires. A range of other factors interact, including the reproductive capacity of the site (e.g., the seed bank), the proceeding climatic conditions, post fire grazing and predation and the prevalence of other disturbances. For example, the impact of a mild, patchy fire in dry sclerophyll forest may not be apparent one or two years later, while an intense fire in wet sclerophyll forest may trigger complete stand replacement, and affect flora, fauna, habitat and landscape for a century or more. Some plants and animals are fire adapted to the extent that they are dependent on periodic fire for habitat maintenance.
The impact of a single fire is of lesser ecological interest than the cumulative impact of a fire regime. Fire regimes are expressed in terms of frequency (i.e., the interval between fires), intensity, distribution or patchiness of burnt areas, and the season of burning.

Fire impacts

Frequent low intensity fires can have a large impact compared with one-off, intense fires. Different combinations of these factors can benefit or disadvantage different elements of the ecosystem. Some plant and animal species, especially the ‘pioneer species’, benefit from frequent fires. Other species are favoured by long fire intervals; in fire-prone landscapes, these are provided for by protected situations such as deep sheltered gullies.

The most dramatic environmental impact is caused by large, high intensity fires. These result in localised and usually temporary loss of plants, animals and habitat, but also stimulate the regeneration of many plant species. The result of such fire can therefore be even-aged regeneration over wide areas, loss of species which prefer frequently or mildly burnt forest, and potential degradation of soils and waterways. Understanding of forest fire ecology suffers from limited data, the time-frames over which recovery occurs and the complexity of interactions between fire regimes and forest types. Most is known about the ecological impacts of fairly frequent (<10 years interval), high intensity fires, especially in shrublands, and woodlands.

 
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