Community-Based Fire Management in Potone Reserve Continued…
In October 2011 Robin Beatty, the 321Fire consultant who facilitated the Introduction to Integrated Fire Management (including the early burning practical) for Potone Reserve in July of last year (see preceding article), returned to Angoche. As a pro bono contribution to the Alliance, Robin met with community leaders, community rangers, Government and Alliance staff to see first hand how the forest structure was looking 3 months after Potone’s first ever early burning campaign. The overall objective was to compare areas that had been part of the early burning campaign with areas that had experienced late, hot and uncontrolled fires during the same season.
In the areas where early burning was conducted (in parts of the forest where hot fires had prevailed in previous years), little or no new destruction of tree saplings was evident. In addition, the recovery of adult trees and the herbaceous layer was clearly in progress. Grass was also recovering, providing food for grazers
late in the dry season when food was scarce. Robin pointed out scars at the bases of larger trees to demonstrate how over time regular hot fires eventually burn through the tree, destroying it in the process.
In comparison, in areas that were not burnt during the campaign but instead experienced late hot fires, it was evident that many trees had been completely destroyed with others suffering significant damage, and that the herbaceous layer had also been significantly impacted. While some recovery of the physiognomy or structure of the forest is possible after such an impact, without early burning interventions the tendency is towards less trees and more grass, with increasing damage to the herbaceous layer, soil and biodiversity. In addition the capacity of the forest to sequester carbon is significantly decreased.
Over a period of decades, this repetitive fire regime will homogenize local ecosystems, reducing spatial and temporal habitat variability. Reducing habitat diversity leads to reduced overall biodiversity and ultimately the services the forest can provide.