Wildfire Futures

7 minute read

New growth from a tree after fire

Wildfire is an intrinsic part of the Australian landscape and has shaped our natural environment for thousands of years. However, the number, size and intensity of wildfires is changing in Australia - and across the world - presenting many complex environmental, social, and economic challenges. The Wildfire Futures Hallmark Research Initiative (HRI) was established to address these challenges by bringing diverse knowledge and disciplines together to create new ways of living with fire.

About

The Wildfire Futures HRI is a future-focused research program that takes an interdisciplinary approach to link new ways of predicting changes in fire, climate, and ecosystems with the preferences and knowledge of communities. In bringing a diverse range of knowledge and disciplines together, it will explore new ways to conceptualise and imagine the nature and roles of fire in Australia towards more positive and future-focused fire science.

Recent catastrophic fire events like eastern Australia’s Black Summer starkly illustrate the potentially massive, cross-cutting impacts posed by changing fire regimes.

In the next 50 years, we must address and manage complex challenges associated with more frequent and extreme wildfires and develop and embrace new ways of living with fire that integrate knowledge, experiences, and approaches from multiple rather than single disciplines.

The Wildfire Futures initiative will bring together ecologists, social scientists, environmental psychologists, fire behaviour and risk analysts, public health specialists, legal scholars, engineers, architects, geographers and economists to explore new approaches to fire and adaptive management – seeking to learn from diverse forms of community knowledge, including Indigenous knowledge, to develop a shared vision for living with future wildfires. This wide-ranging and ambitious initiative will contemplate how we transform everything from governance of planning, health, law and disaster response to ecosystem conservation to adapt to future fire regimes.

The initiative has high-level interest and support from a range of key fire agencies including regional fire authorities, bushfire recovery organisations, government departments and resource managers. The initiative’s research will also focus on public benefits including disseminating key findings through public events.

Outputs

By bringing together an array of disciplines at the University of Melbourne – including ecosystem and forest sciences, Indigenous knowledge, architecture, design, geography, earth sciences, engineering, environmental law, and health sciences – the Wildfire Futures initiative will enable and grow a dynamic network of researchers and external collaborators, creating a broad scope for future fire research.

A range of overarching, future-oriented interdisciplinary themes have been initially identified (linking fire, the environment, and people, as well as how we predict, plan, respond and recover from fires) and the initiative will support a range of projects in the cross-disciplinary space where these themes intersect.

The Wildfire Futures initiative will support high-quality research that pushes the boundaries of fire research, and the communication of that research to diverse audiences. It will produce information and seminars for the public that aim to help Australians understand the likely futures of wildfire, and how these futures might interact with the things they value. Some of the broad project areas that the Wildfire Futures initiative will seek to examine include:

  • Looking forward to predict and anticipate the key threats posed by future fire patterns
  • Addressing the dynamic interdependencies between fire, climate, society, and the environment
  • Providing a forum to explore the desirable (or undesirable) fire futures, and the paths that lead to them
  • Exploring how institutions can strategically manage change and the novel challenges from future fires.

People
Portraits of Wildfire Futures team membes Lauren Bennett, Trent Penman and Tom Fairman

Initiative co-chairs

Associate Professor Lauren Bennett
Principal Research Fellow (Forests and Carbon)
Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Professor Trent Penman
Professor In Bushfire Behaviour
Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Academic Convenor

Dr Tom Fairman
Future Fire Risk Analyst
Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Steering Committee

Prof Lee Godden
Environmental Law, Resource Governance and Climate Change Adaptation; Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law
Melbourne Law School

Prof Jacqueline Peel
Melbourne Climate Futures, Melbourne Law School

Prof Kathryn Williams
Environmental Psychology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Prof Michael McCarthy
Environmental Risk and Decision Making, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Dr Andrew King
Climate Science, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Prof Lisa Gibbs
Public Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

Dr Luke Kelly
Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Prof Patrick Baker
Forest Ecology and Silviculture, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences

Prof Tuan Ngo
Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology

Prof Alan March
Urban Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction, Melbourne School of Design

Prof Greg Foliente
Disaster Management and Public Safety, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology

Prof Tom Kompas
Environmental Economics, School of Biosciences

A/Prof Michael Fletcher
Indigenous Knowledge Institute, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Contact us

To get in touch with the Wildfire Futures Hallmark Initiative team please contact academic convenor Tom Fairman by email to: thomas.fairman@unimelb.edu.au