Wildfires cause enormous damage worldwide, particularly in Victoria, Australia, with growing populations in fire-prone ecosystems. Broad-scale prescribed burning is an established, yet controversial, wildfire management policy in Victoria and Australia. But does broad-scale prescribed burning reduce fire damage? The answer depends on how damage is measured. We propose that different perceptions about the efficacy of broad-scale prescribed burning derive from different disciplinary measures of damage (e.g., biodiversity, area burned, or fatalities). Although broad-scale prescribed burning reduces subsequent wildfire size, there is little evidence that it saves human lives and homes. Evidence suggests that small-scale fuel reduction may be more effective at saving lives. The prescribed burning debate might be better focused on what damage we wish to limit, and which measures are most effective at limiting this damage. In this context, the current policy focus on broad-scale prescribed burning targets may distract efforts from more effective lifesaving strategies.
- fire policy
- forest communities
- humans and natural ecosystems
- land management practices
- perceptions and management