EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Managing Fire to Avoid Wildfires in Fire-prone Ecosystems

Isabel Belloni Schmidt
Isabel Belloni Schmidt
  • Universidade de Brasília, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Departamento de Ecologia, Brazil (

Fire-prone ecosystems evolved and have been managed by humans with fire for
millennia. Ignoring these socioecological realities, zero-fire policies have been
implemented in fire-prone ecosystems across the world. These inappropriate policies are
mainly originated from a forest-centered perception that fire is an essentially negative
and anthropogenic disturbance. The attempts to exclude fires have generated deleterious
ecological impacts, high fire-fighting costs, damage to properties and human lives in
grasslands, savannas and Mediterranean-type ecosystems. These zero-fire policies also
generate conflicts between governments and local communities who use fire to manage
the landscape, food production and livestock raising. Excluding fires from fire-prone
ecosystems may lead to changes ecosystem functioning and biodiversity due to woody
encroachment and/or fuel load accumulation. In regions where soil conditions allow
grasslands can be invaded by trees, changing vegetation structure and their ability to
provide ecosystem services, especially water production. In most fire-prone ecosystems,
fuel load accumulates, and the long-time unburned areas become time bombs waiting
for the next ignition source to cause disastrous wildfires. Fire bans disrupt traditional
fire management practices and commonly lead to more irresponsible uses of fire, since
local communities continue to depend on fire for their productive areas but use fire in
furtive ways to avoid criminalization. In combination with large areas with high and
homogeneous fuel loads, this leads to large, hard to control and highly impacting
wildfires, especially during late-dry season, when fires tend cause more severe impacts.
After decades under these scenarios, zero-fire policies have been substituted by active
fire management policies in fire-prone ecosystems in many countries in Africa, Latin
America, in the US and Australia, among other countries. Fire management policies
should be adapted for each regional socioecological context and allow for the active use
of fires for landscape management, biodiversity conservation and/or productive
activities. The Brazilian savanna (Cerrado) is the most biodiverse and threaten savanna
in the world and has been managed under zero-fire policy for decades. It is a tropical
humid savanna (1,500mm mean annual precipitation) where large (>10,000 hectares),
frequent (2-4 years fire interval) late-dry season wildfires are common, including in
Protect Areas (PA) dedicated to biodiversity conservation and traditional communities’
livelihoods. In 2014, a pilot Integrated Fire Management (IFM) program has been
implemented in three Cerrado PAs. The program considers local uses of fire,
implements prescribed burns and landscape management planning aiming to (i) change
the main season of burnings (from late- to early- and mid-dry season); (ii) protect fire-
sensitive vegetation, such as riparian forests, from fires; (iii) decrease firefighting costs;
(iv) reduce conflicts with local communities and (v) lower greenhouse gases emissions.
The IFM program has since been implemented in more than 30 federal PA, including
Indigenous Territories., where this approach has successfully achieved its main
objectives. The present challenge is to expand IFM actions to the state and especially
private -owned lands, which will allow for a significant change in wildfire patterns
across the whole 2 million km 2 of the Brazilian savanna.

How to cite: Schmidt, I. B.: Managing Fire to Avoid Wildfires in Fire-prone Ecosystems, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-10273,, 2021.

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