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Kruger National Park
The fire management system being proposed for the Kruger National Park must satisfy the Park’s recently revamped ecosystem objectives, which stress heterogeneity over space and time.
The current intended lightning-driven system meant to achieve this, but proved to be dominated instead by fires caused by illegal immigrants. This led to revision, which was well underway before the tragic fire of 4 September 2001, an event that served to help unify relationships between this and KNP fire security policies.
Areas of continuing debate include understanding the implications of the role of early man in shaping the landscape with fire, as contrasted with justification behind demands for “hands-off” wilderness management. Cognisance has to now also be taken of the reality of concession areas and their need for smaller-scale fire heterogeneity patterns and lower levels of risk appropriate to their geographically more confined operations. The experimental burn plots (EBP’s) operated since the mid-1950’s are discussed, including recent initiatives which are making these results more valuable to our current objectives.
Despite these challenges, much has been definitively learnt, for instance that point ignitions are preferable, that there should be limits on total extent allowed to burn, and that the system employed must include enough cautiously thought-through variants to allow us to learn. The strategic adaptive approach is embedded in the proposed system by TPC’s* being built into the proposed operations, two of the most important ones being measured and evaluated by rangers directly.
Consequences arising from fire policies during the era during which fire management was intended to be dominated by lightning (1993-2001) are reviewed, as is the LASHFIRE trial, a planned experiment to realistically review practical alternatives to lightning fire systems. Reasons for dissatisfaction with the intended lightning system are highlighted, the main one being that the system in practice turned out instead to be driven largely by illegal transmigrants setting fires on their way through the park. Apart from proposing an alternative system, we also recommend the planned LASHFIRE trial now be shelved, for reasons of our having outgrown its philosophical base, and having integrated most proposed variants that would have been tested in isolation, into the newly proposed fire system anyway. The basis for a healthy relationship between the ecosystem fire management policy, and the KNP fire security policy (designed to protect humans and infrastructure) is considered, threats posed by fire to animals also being discussed. The need for training, and the emergence of Fire Protection Associations, are mentioned.
An innovative and seemingly practical way of uniting the best available components of patch mosaic fire philosophy with range condition and lightning fire philosophy, and embracing the reality of transmigrant burns, is proposed. It involves setting annual and monthly burn targets based mainly on vegetation measurements taken at the start of the season. Each month from early in the fire season, patch fires are put in by rangers towards a target also influenced by transmigrant fires. Adaptive “catching-up” or “slackening-off” is practised as the season progresses, to try to keep somewhere near target. Rangers will generally stop setting fires at the onset of the lightning season to then allow lightning a chance to contribute as a natural source. Slight variations, to enable learning while managing, are imposed for wilderness areas, non-wilderness areas and concession areas, and other variations (such as amount of lightning influence in different areas) will arise over time as a natural contrast.
In this way, lightning has the best safe chance of burning significant areas, instead of these areas being pre-empted earlier in the season by (often rampant) transmigrant fires. Generally, all fires are point ignitions. Wilderness areas are allocated the least invasive form of fire management, and concessions are given maximum safeguards permissible within a biodiversity management philosophy. Rangers will once again feel a sense of empowerment in fire management, and develop fire setting skills.
At all times during the learn-as-we-manage process described above, the central suite of TPC’s operated in the KNP will act as the “referee’s rules” for the desirability or otherwise of these systems. Systems exceeding TPC’s will be discontinued or adapted. Certain focussed research projects may need to be solicited to answer particular questions not amenable to resolution using the regular monitoring programme, whose scope should in any event be scrutinized to make it as simple and practical as feasible in future.
* TPC’s are Thresholds of Potential Concern, which are monitoring endpoints based on objectives describing the desired state for the Park. They are a variation on Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC’s) and are discussed extensively in Box 3 page 14 of the Revision of the KNP Management Plan (Braack, 1997).