The evolution of fire and invasive alien plant management practices in fynbos
van Wilgen, BW
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The history and development of fire and invasive alien plant management policies in fynbos during the 20th century are reviewed. Fire was initially condemned outright as a destructive force, but as its vital role became better understood, management policies switched from protection to active burning in 1968. During the 1970s, large, coordinated research programmes were established, resulting in a solid basis of knowledge on which to develop fire management policies. Despite policies of prescribed burning, wild fires remain the dominant feature of the region, fortunately driving a variable fire regime that remains broadly aligned with conservation objectives. The problem of conserving fire-adapted fynbos is complicated by invading alien trees that are also fire-adapted. Research results were used to demonstrate the impacts of these invasions on water yields, leading to the creation of one of the largest alien plant control programmes globally. Despite improvements in control methods, alien trees, notably pines, continue to spread almost unchecked. Biological control offered some hope for controlling pines, but was ruled out as too high a risk for these commercially-important trees. Failure to address this problem adequately will almost certainly result in the severe degradation of remaining fynbos ecosystems.