Optimising the spatial planning of prescribed burns to achieve multiple objectives in a fire-dependent ecosystem.
There is potential for negative consequences for the ecological integrity of fire-dependent ecosystems as a result of inappropriate fire regimes. This can occur when asset (property) protection is prioritised over conservation objectives in burn programs. Optimisation of fire management for multiple objectives is rarely undertaken. Here, we use integer linear programming to identify burn scheduling solutions that will cost-effectively achieve asset protection and conservation objectives. An approach to burn scheduling that favours a risk-averse asset protection strategy results in poor conservation outcomes. Conversely, a conservation-focused approach achieves only modest asset protection benefits. However, when formulated as a multi-objective problem, good conservation outcomes can be realised with only a small reduction in potential benefits for asset protection. A conservation-focused approach resulted in substantially more heterogeneity in burns at multiple spatial scales and a marked reduction in mean time since fire among all forest patches relative to an asset protection scenario. This increase in heterogeneity improves ecological integrity, while the resulting reduction in fuel load is beneficial for asset protection. Synthesis and applications. Mathematical optimisation is a powerful framework for informing fire management that improves the prioritisation and scheduling of controlled burns to efficiently achieve management objectives. By quantifying the trade-offs that exist between the two competing objectives of conservation and asset protection, we demonstrate that compromise solutions can be identified that achieve good outcomes for both objectives. In a transparent and equitable manner, we show that conservation value may be improved within a fire-dependent ecosystem with only modest concession to asset protection performance. Explicitly evaluating trade-offs among competing objectives enables managers to identify potentially undesirable outcomes, and facilitate development of preferred solutions. Heterogeneous burning under the auspices of conservation also has the potential to reduce overall fuel loads within the ecosystem and thus its value for asset protection is likely underappreciated.