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The Management of Fire-Adapted Ecosystems in an Urban Setting: the Case of Table Mountain National Park, South Africa

Brian W van Wilgen, Centre for Invasion Biology; CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment
Greg G Forsyth, CSIR Natural Resources and the Environment
Philip Prins, South African National Parks

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04526-170108

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Abstract

The Table Mountain National Park is a 265-km² conservation area embedded within a city of 3.5 million people. The highly diverse and unique vegetation of the park is both fire prone and fire adapted, and the use of fire forms an integral part of the ecological management of the park. Because fires are both necessary and dangerous, fire management is characterized by uncertainty and conflict. The response of vegetation to fire is reasonably well understood, but the use of fire for conservation purposes remains controversial because of key gaps in understanding. These gaps include whether or not the vegetation is resilient to increases in fire frequency, how to deal with fire-sensitive forests embedded in fire-prone shrublands, and how to integrate fire and invasive alien plant control. National legislation emphasizes the need to protect communities from dangerous wildfires, and this compels fire managers to adopt a cautious approach to the application of fire. Ecological outcomes are optimized under a fire regime of relatively high-intensity, dry-season fires. Obtaining permission to burn under such conditions is not possible, and so the practice of prescribed burning is constrained, and this results in a fire regime dominated by wildfires. Ecological uncertainties, and the divergent requirements for maintaining healthy ecosystems on the one hand, and ensuring human safety on the other, result in a complex fire management environment. These complexities could be, and in some cases are being, alleviated by raising awareness, increasing fire management capacity, improving ecological monitoring of the effects of fire, and prioritizing areas for integrated fire and invasive alien plant management.

Key words

biodiversity conservation; ecosystem management; forestry; fynbos; pines; wildland–urban interface
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087