The ongoing development of a pragmatic and adaptive fire management policy in a large African savanna protected area
van Wilgen, B.W.
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This paper describes recent changes to the fire management policy of the 1.9 million ha Kruger National Park in South Africa. It provides a real-life example of adaptive learning in an environment where understanding is incomplete, but where management nonetheless has to proceed. The previous policy called for the application of fire to meet burnt area targets that were set for administrative subdivisions, and that were assessed at the scale of the entire park. This was problematic because the park is large and heterogeneous, and because sound ecological motivations that could link burning prescriptions to ecological objectives were missing. The new policy divides the park into five fire management zones on the basis of differences in mean annual rainfall, historic fire return periods, and geology. In addition, it proposes fire management actions designed to achieve specified ecological objectives in each zone, and includes fire-regime related thresholds and associated ecological outcomes against which to assess the effectiveness of management. The new policy is an improvement over previous iterations, but several challenges remain. Most important among these would be to continually improve the understanding of the effects of fire, and to develop frameworks for assessing the impacts of fire together with other ecosystem drivers that interact strongly with fire to influence the attainment of ecological objectives.