Opinion under fire

Evidence vs opinion: What really protects houses from wildfires?

January saw the publication of a fiery piece of research in PLoS ONE on factors correlating with house loss during the Black Saturday fires in 2009. It was led by EDG researcher Phil Gibbons and was sparked by his interest in the claim and counter claim that followed the catastrophe. Here he explains what has emerged from a robust consideration of the evidence. While this research is focussed on fuel reduction for the protection of homes and lives, there are several
emerging themes connected to the core areas of the Environmental Decision Group. The most obvious is the connection between different fuel reduction treatments and their impact on biodiversity values of the broader landscape. The trade-offs between fire management for biodiversity conservation and asset protection are discussed in DP #39 and DP #42. Just as significant is the importance of using evidence (as opposed to opinion) in forming policy and prescriptions for landscape management.

When a big bushfire hits a community resulting in loss of life and property you can be sure emotions will be running high in the aftermath. You can also be sure a range of strongly held opinions will be expressed on what should be done in future to prevent such disasters happening again. What you rarely see, however, is a long hard examination of the evidence of what factors in the landscape are contributing to the loss of homes and lives. Do strongly argued opinions on appropriate land management fit with the available evidence? This was the question we sought to answer when we examined the evidence left in the aftermath of the Black Saturday…





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