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Keywords:

  • fire;
  • fuel;
  • minesite;
  • rehabilitation;
  • savanna

Abstract

The interactions between vegetation dynamics, fuel dynamics and fire hazard in rehabilitation after bauxite mining at Gove, Northern Territory, Australia were investigated. It was found that a policy of fire exclusion had led to fuel loads of the oldest rehabilitation being three to four times greater than those of frequently burnt adjoining unmined landscapes. Consequently, the potential fire intensities are beyond those experienced elsewhere in the region. Where occasional fires have occurred in the rehabilitated areas, the proportion of tree death has varied, with the most severe cases having 43% to 70% mortality. In rehabilitated sites that have been burnt, the fuel loads are lower. These findings indicate that the fire hazard in the unburnt rehabilitation is extreme, but because not all sites had substantial tree death, there is potential to manage fuel loads with carefully planned fires. The paradigm of fire exclusion during the rehabilitation process is based on a long-debunked forestry management paradigm which was applied to some Australian savanna landscapes and needs to be overturned to facilitate integration of the rehabilitation into the broader frequently burnt landscape.