Natural Decisions has recently completed a project, Analysis of Tools and Methodologies to Balance Competing Objectives of Burning Program, for the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) as part of the National Burning Project.

The primary objective of the project was to determine the availability and suitability of tools and methodologies to manage objectives for prescribed burning programs. The work was completed in two stages:

  • Stage 1 reviewed the availability and suitability of tools and methodologies used by fire management agencies to set objectives, and to measure and evaluate the implementation of prescribed burning programs. Current decision-making tools for prescribed burning have been developed for all states and the ACT. Tools were generally strong in risk assessment and fire simulation but had limited or no inclusion of economic components.
  • In Stage 2 a separate benefit: cost analysis tool (BCT) was developed. The BCT was inspired by the principles of the Investment Framework for Environmental Resources (INFFER) and previous experience in bushfire management research. Important components of the brief were that the tool should be able to use inputs from existing fire simulation and risk assessment tools, be able to be used by non-economists and to respond to recommendations previously developed, including the need to build capacity of fire managers. The tool was developed in Excel and should be considered as a prototype.

The BCT was applied in a participatory process in two case study areas, the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia and the Hornsby-Berowra region in New South Wales. In both South Australia and NSW, the current burning program (baseline) is conducted only on public land. The benefits and costs of alternative scenarios (additional to the baseline) were assessed. In South Australia seven scenarios were assessed, comprising different levels of burning on public and private land. In NSW the current burning program was a mixture of landscape and interface burning and the six scenarios assessed included three different levels of burning in these two zones, retrofitting houses, an increased mechanical treatment option in asset protection zones and a ‘do nothing’ option.

Overall the BCT was able to assess benefits and costs of prescribed burning strategies in a robust way and provides a new approach for fire agencies to strategically evaluate different options. Many of the concepts involved were new to project participants. Existing fire behaviour modelling proved complementary and the BCT was able to utilise the outputs of fire modelling, although it took some time to be able to determine which parts were useful, whether the way fire simulation modelling is currently used is sound for assessing benefits and costs and decisions about how model outputs could be interpreted as inputs into the BCT. The project responded to the three previously identified recommendations, namely, building the capacity of managers to commission and use economic information, integrating analysis of both market and non-market benefits and costs as part of economic evaluation and better integrating economic evaluation within the broader context of integrated decision-making processes.

For further information on the project and/or access to the BCT you can contact Geoff Park at Natural Decisions (geoff.park@naturaldecisions.com.au) or Deb Sparkes at AFAC (Deb.Sparkes@afac.com.au).

Reference: AFAC (2018) Analysis of Tools and Methodologies to Balance Competing Objectives of Burning Programs Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council Limited (Melbourne: Victoria)

Source: Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, South Australia

Posted 19 June 2018 in News