Project leader: Jeremy Russell-Smith, Bushfires Council of the Northern Territory

Full title: FIREPLAN: Fire management for the savanna community

Summary | Objectives | Rationale | Approach and Methods | Fire management of woody vegetation in the Gulf | Prescribed burning and wildfire controlEvaluating fire management on conservation reserves | Fire-management planning associated with energy supply | Impacts of fire and sustainable land management in Indonesia and northern Australia | Fire-information products | Arnhem Land Fire Abatement | Outcomes | Outputs 2002- 2006 | Milestones | Project team | More information |


FIREPLAN is a Tropical Savannas CRC project that builds on directions set in the previous CRC fire project, Fire and Savanna Landscapes.

  jeremy russell-smith

 Project Leader Dr. Jeremy Russell-Smith

In 2004-05 FIREPLAN will continue to assist with the development and implementation of regional fire management initiatives (e.g. Cape York, western Arnhem Land, the Kimberley, and eastern Indonesia), as well as commence the undertaking of the across-north Australia, NHT Competitive Regional project,  Developing knowledge-based fire management for northern Australia savanna communities: Phase 1.

The FIREPLAN project will continue to assist the development of, and, where feasible, contribute strategic core funding to, research initiatives which further the aims of developing sustainable fire management practices on savanna lands under all tenures, particularly in northern Australia, but also in the SE Asian region, as opportunities permit.  In this regard it is anticipated that a major new project will come on board this coming financial year, the North Australia Fire Abatement (NAFA) Project, with core funding through the Australian Greenhouse Office’s, Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program.

As well as commencing the major project, Developing knowledge-based fire management for northern Australia savanna communities: Phase 1, other core activities in 2004-05 include:  continuing major regional fire management projects in the Gulf (in partnership with MLA) and in eastern Indonesia (in partnership with ACIAR); continuing the review of fire management practice on conservation reserves in QLD; an ongoing PhD fire management research program with ERGON Energy in NW QLD; continuing to support the community fire program in the Kimberley;  promoting the use of remote sensing and associated GIS products as aids for improving fire management at property, regional and continental scales; continuing to provide input and facilitate partnerships in the Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (ALFA) project, and assisting generally with the development of, and attaining funding for, fire management and research programs of relevance to the savanna community.


The key objectives of the FIREPLAN project are as follows:

  • continue to assist with the undertaking of ongoing regional fire management projects, e.g. in the Kimberley, and the Gulf region of north QLD
  • assist with the ongoing development and establishment of identified priority regional fire management research initiatives, e.g. Gulf MLA project, eastern Indonesia ACIAR project, Kimberley community fire management project, fire management on QLD conservation reserves, etc.
  • in collaboration with regional community stakeholders and relevant research institutions and staff, promote and assist with the development of, and funding for, applied fire management research projects which have potential to deliver significant land use sustainability, conservation, and community outcomes
  • promote the undertaking of patchy fire regimes as part of sustainable management of lands under all tenures, but especially conservation lands, including the undertaking of demonstration and associated research activities
  • explore the potential for achieving improved and sustainable land management, environmental, and employment outcomes, particularly with reference to indigenous communities and lands, arising out of opportunities associated with carbon credits trading from reduced emissions from savanna fires
  • promote the development, wider use, and better delivery of, appropriate information packages and technological aids (including satellite imagery) for improving savanna fire management
  • promote linkages with other relevant research programs and institutions, e.g. Desert Knowledge and Bushfires CRCs, the Australian Greenhouse Office, etc.
  • promote the undertaking of post-graduate training opportunities


The philosophy underlying FIREPLAN is to develop research projects in response to community/stakeholder requirements—as opposed to research agency core interests.  Such an approach invites the involvement of community groups and sectors which otherwise might be loathe, hostile even, to being involved with research activities (as scientifically worthwhile as these might be) undertaken in isolation. It provides opportunities for the TSMCRC to engage the wider community in cross-cultural, cross-sectoral activities which have the potential to result in long-lasting social benefits.  Effective (“Good”) fire management is as much about improving cross-sectoral and cross-cultural understanding, as it is about better applying biophysical, scientifically-based, management principles.

Over the next few years a particular focus of FIREPLAN will be to collate and deliver fire management information relevant to the diverse information needs of savanna land managers and stakeholders. As such, FIREPLAN contributes to all four Key Result areas, but particularly addresses the issues surrounding the development of Sustainable Management Systems.

Approach and Methods

The first two years of the FIREPLAN project necessarily involved developing a broader project and associated funding base.  That foundation work is almost complete, save with impending decisions about the establishment of the North Australia Fire Abatement (NAFA) Project (see above).  A number of projects are now, or soon will be underway, as outlined below. 

1. Developing, implementing and evaluating fire management of woody vegetation in the Gulf region.  (MLA funding for this activity commenced in 2002)

Many parts of the Gulf region have experienced increases in woody vegetation cover in recent decades.  This thickening in the cover of trees (e.g. eucalyptus) and shrubs (e.g. gardenias, and acacias) has reduced pasture production and made cattle management more difficult.  These changes have probably resulted from a combination of the effects of grazing, changes in fire regimes and climatic conditions.  The strategic use of fire has the potential to reduce woody vegetation cover and facilitate increased pasture production.  This project will develop and test recommendations for the use of fire for management of woody vegetation in the gulf savannas through a collaborative effort between landholders and woodland ecologists. It will be conducted under the umbrella of the TSCRC.

As part of that project, the TSCRC directly contributes $20,000 towards engaging community stakeholders.  In the first year of the project those funds were directed towards travel and associated costs of community workshops, and the running of the community-based steering committee. Given other sources of funding available for those activities the regional community partner, the Northern Gulf Resource Group (NGRG), has advised that they would like to use those funds for developing a photo-based regional environmental history—similar to that undertaken for the VRD and published by the TSCRC as Slower than the eye can see.  Preliminary work has been undertaken with funding allocated in 2002/03.  Discussions are underway to determine how this component can be progressed.

2. Investigating prescribed burning and wildfire control: Training and skills development for on-ground property level fire management in the Kimberley, WA

This is an ongoing project in partnership with the Kimberley Regional Fire Management Committee (KRFM), with full support of community partners and agencies, including PGA, KLC, KAPA, CALM, AGWA, FESA.. The rationale for the project is set out in full in last year’s proposal.  

Specifically, for 2004-05, the KRFMC is seeking funding for the holding of a strategic workshop in late 2004 to bring together community, business, agency, and philanthropic partners to progress the economic sustainability of indigenous NRM contract employment in the Kimberley, based on ‘fire team’ model developed by the KRFMC.

3. Evaluating fire management on conservation reserves

This is an ongoing project, with funding sought for the third and final year (refer previous proposal for project details). The purpose is to identify and address impediments to the application of desirable fire management on reserves.  The project is linked to the ‘The Knowledge-building Project’ (3.1.3 in Theme 3. The project focuses on north Queensland.  The project has been going extremely well, thanks principally to Leasie Felderhof (QPWS), and Dr Carl Smith (attached to ‘The Knowledge-building Project’).  Funding of $25,000 is sought to run a series of final participatory workshops.

4. PhD research project—fire management planning associated with energy supply in NW QLD

This is ongoing PhD project which commenced 2003-04, being undertaken by Leasie Felderhof.  No additional resources are sought for the project this financial year. 

5. Impacts of fire and its use for sustainable land and forest management in Indonesia and northern Australia

This is a large project, funded principally by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The project commenced late in 2002 and will be undertaken over three years in the first instance.  Partners to the project include Australia—NTU, TSMCRC, BFC, and Indonesia—Sekolah Tinggi Ilmu Ekonomi Kristen Wira Wacana, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and a range of Indonesian national and regional (especially Nusa tenggara Timur, NTT) agencies and institutions, including the Provincial Planning Board NTT (BAPPEDA NTT),  Ministry of Agriculture, BPTP Naibonat NTT (Research Centre for Agricultural Technology of NTT), Ministry of Forestry, Ministry of Environment, Nusa Tenggara Community Development Consortium, and the Universitas Nusa Cendana, Kupang. 

Direct involvement of the TSMCRC is required in the form of assisting the development and coordination of the applied research agenda, and in educational and training activities. From the project brief:

The primary objectives of the proposed project are to:

  1. determine current and past patterns of fire in a range of strategically located sites in western Indonesia (southern Sumatra, East Kalimantan), eastern Indonesia (Sumba and Flores), and northern Australia;
  2. review national, state/regional policy frameworks regarding underlying fire management issues and past/current impacts of these policies;
  3. determine positive and negative impacts of a range of fire management strategies, particularly for forestry;
  4. determine appropriate fire management strategies and identify enabling policies (that facilitate improved livelihood options) for different land-use objectives through participatory planning methods; and
  5. enhance land and forest management capacity of stakeholders and associated institutions through technology transfer, training and education.
6. Fire information products for the savanna community   

The core component will be the undertaking of the 2.5 year project, commencing April 2004, Developing knowledge-based fire management for northern Australia savanna communities: Phase 1.  The project is being undertaken through the TSCRC on behalf of five north Australian NRM bodies (Cape York, Northern Gulf, Southern Gulf (all QLD), the NT, and WA’s Rangelands).  The project comprises three interlinked components:

  1. Developing, implementing and monitoring regionalised best practice fire management guidelines, focusing particularly on biodiversity and sustainability outcomes—the development of such guidelines would be a key Phase 1 activity, with implementation and monitoring undertaken over the life of NHT II in Phase 2 of the project;
  2. Developing fire management capacity, in each of three overlapping key sectoral areas, with activities in each commencing in Phase 1
         2.1  indigenous interests
        2.2  pastoral management
        2.3 biodiversity
  3. Building a north Australian fire management Knowledge Forum, also commencing in Phase 1.  The Forum will be largely web-based, and substantial resources will be given both to development of the site, as well through the employment of three ‘information brokers’, respectively in QLD, NT, WA.  As well, the current NAFI site ( )will be maintained and further developed, including ongoing provision of remote sensing products derived from WA’s Department of Land Information. Work on the development of fire mapping products and analyses will be undertaken in association with the Desert Fire project of the Desert Knowledge CRC.
7. Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project

This is an ongoing project with funding mostly through the NHT (particularly for on-ground management) and, at least for 2003-04, the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) particularly for developing emissions protocols.  As well, we are currently awaiting a decision for funding from the AGO’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, of a broader project, North Australia Fire Abatement (NAFA) Project, which would focus primarily on developing emissions-based fire management in Arnhem Land, but also other fire-prone areas of the northern savannas.

For 2004/05 the ALFA project will be ongoing thru NT Regional NHT funding of the project, Capacity building for fire and land management in central and west Arnhem Land. As part of that program, ongoing work on developing greenhouse emissions protocols will be undertaken, building on work commenced with AGO funding in 2003-04, specifically: (1) refining preliminary vegetation structure mapping; (2) extending fine-resolution fire mapping of the region from 1991-2004; (3) undertaking detailed ground-truth assessment of fire affected areas mapping for 2004; (4) detailed assessment of fuel load accumulation in different vegetation structure types; and (5) assessment of patchiness of fires throughout the year, and associated refinement of burning efficiency factor estimates.

Complementary to the above project, two Honours projects will be undertaken through CDU with funding from FIREPLAN, as follows:

  • Fire management planningessentially involving the ongoing mapping of fire throughout 2004, including assessment of fire ignition success and rate of spread, and interaction with the operational program (aerial and on-ground burning) to provide constant feedback, refinement and adaption.  This project is being undertaken by Ben Lewis, under the academic supervision of Dr Guy Boggs.
  • Refined mapping of sandstone heath habitats, and fire regime assessment---building on the structural vegetation map being developed thru the ALFA project, detailed mapping of fire-sensitive heath communities is required as a basis for assessing status of sandstone heaths. Such mapping will underlie the nomination of Arnhem sandstone heaths as a threatened community. This project is being undertaken by Graeme Blake, also under the academic supervision of Dr Guy Boggs.


  • engage the savanna community through fostering, and assisting the development of major regional community-based fire-management projects;
  • promote applied fire-management research in savanna landscapes;
  • further develop fire-management capacity in regional communities, sectors, and institutions;
  • disseminate research findings and other information products of relevance to savanna land managers and institutions;
  • provide opportunities for postgraduate training;
  • further develop linkages with other relevant national and international fora/undertakings.


The outputs below follow generally the list of projects described briefly above:

1.  Developing, implementing and evaluating fire management of woody vegetation in the Gulf region. 
  • 1.1  Practical guidelines on the sustainable use of fires in Gulf Savannas by June 30 2006.
2.Investigating prescribed burning and wildfire control: Training and skills development for on-ground property level fire management in the Kimberley, WA
  • 2.1  Development and implementation of 2-year NHT Regional funding proposal for ongoing program for 2004-05, to 2005-06
  • 2.2  In collaboration with a range of community, agency and business partners, development of strategic plan addressing sustainable deployment of indigenous fire control / contract employment teams
3. Evaluating fire management on conservation reserves

Note that this project, as currently proposed, addresses fire management issues on conservation reserves in northern QLD.  It is proposed to build on this project and extend it more generally to northern Australia.  The outputs below, however, relate specifically to the current proposal as it relates to QLD, and not more broadly: 

  • 3.1  Guidelines for the management of fire in major north QLD habitat types by June 30 2005
  • 3.2  A review of fire management practice, limitations, and opportunities on protected areas in north QLD, by June 30 2005
4. PhD research project—fire management planning associated with energy supply in NW QLD
  • 4.1  Guidelines for ecologically-based fire management associated with powerlines in NW QLD, by Dec 31 2006
5. Impacts of fire and its use for sustainable land and forest management in Indonesia and northern Australia
  • 5.1  Review of legislative & regulatory frameworks, implementation and practice-based impacts of fire policy on land-use management in northern Australia and Indonesia, by Dec 31 2004
  • 5.2  Review of appropriate fire management strategies for different land-use objectives, and recommendations for communities, private owners and governments, by Dec 31 2005
6. Fire information products for the savanna community
  • 6.1  Dissemination of north Australia fire mapping products on the NAFI and linked websites, ongoing from to June 30 2006
  • 6.2  Development of north Australia web-based Knowledge Forum, incorporating various information products and Regionally based best management guidelines, ongoing to June 30 2006
7. Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project
  • 7.1  Documentation of habitat-specific fuel load accumulation (FLA), burning efficiency factor (BEF), biomass burning and greenhouse emissions estimates, for the western Arnhem Land ALFA project area, by June 2005.
  • 7.2   Ongoing technical assessment of reliability of fire mapping products, to June 2006, but including detailed assessment of 2004 operational program as product of targeted Honours project
  • 7.3   Refined mapping of Arnhem Land sandstone heath communities by end of 2004, as product of targeted Honours program


Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith
Fire Management Consultant
Tel: 08 8922 0830

Fax: 08 8922 0833

PO Box 37346