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By: J Russell-Smith, P Whitehead and P Cooke
The savannas of northern Australia are the most fire-prone part of a fire-prone continent. The savanna region comprises 1.9 M km2 (a third of the Australian landmass), of which roughly 20 per cent is burnt on average each year. Savanna fires currently contribute about 72 per cent of national fire extent annually - the remainder comprising 26 per cent from fires in central Australia (associated in recent years with decadally high rainfall, hence high fuel loads), with just 2 per cent in southern, relatively densely populated southern Australia. While such observations have been documented in the scientific literature in recent years, issues surrounding the frequency, extent, environmental and social-cultural drivers, ecological requirements for, and greenhouse impacts of, savanna burning remain little understood or appreciated by Australian government institutions and the community at large.
In particular, there has been no systematic exploration of the options available to savanna residents and users to assert control over the extent and frequency of fire to meet conservation and production goals. In twelve multi-authored chapters, the book documents key challenges and novel options for addressing chronic landscape-scale fire management issues in north Australian savannas through development of collaborative, cross-cultural 'two toolkit' approaches, and commercially supported environmental services programs.
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