Optimising prescribed burns to achieve multiple objectives

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This week’s featured research article has just been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and examines planning optimisation of prescribed burns to achieve multiple objectives in a fire dependent ecosystem. The researchers state that fire management decisions are complex problems as they involve uncertainty and multiple or conflicting objectives. Fire management has important consequences for the risk of catastrophic loss of life and property, which can result in risk-aversion and systematic biases that can lead to fire exclusion from fire-dependent ecosystems in some areas (potentially increasing fuel load) and too frequent burning in designated asset-protection areas (potentially leading to local extinctions and compromised ecosystem health). By quantifying the trade-offs that exist between the two competing objectives of conservation and asset protection the researchers demonstrate that compromise solutions can be identified that achieve good outcomes for both objectives.  In a transparent and equitable manner, they show that conservation value may be improved within a fire-dependent ecosystem with only modest concession to asset protection performance. The researchers conclude that explicitly evaluating trade-offs among competing objectives enables managers to identify potentially undesirable outcomes, and facilitate development of preferred solutions. Furthermore, heterogeneous burning under the auspices of conservation also has the potential to reduce overall fuel loads within the ecosystem and thus its value for asset protection is likely underappreciated. The paper can be downloaded here.