Extensive bushfires in Tasmania in early 2016 affected parts of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape, which is on the National Heritage List, as well as the Arthur–Pieman Conservation Area and Sundown Point State Reserve. These fires occurred after one of the driest summers on record and are likely to have been ignited by lightning strikes on peat soils.
Tasmanian alpine flora is not resilient to infrequent, large fires. Bare ground remains for half a century or more after fire, only decreasing once mammalian herbivores are excluded (Kirkpatrick & Bridle 2013). Many centuries may be required for coniferous heath to recover to a pre-burned state, even though most species apparently survive. In Tasmania, alpine vegetation is dominated by plants that have lasted since the Cretaceous period, but these relics have not developed long-distance dispersal mechanisms, which makes this community very vulnerable to changing fire frequency. Fires caused by increased ignitions from lightning and arsonists are a major conservation issue (Kirkpatrick et al. 2010).
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian Fire Service have responded to this challenge by developing an integrated fire management and firefighting system. The distribution of fire-sensitive vegetation is mapped, so that expert fire planners can direct firefighting crews to the places where they can best minimise the chances of further vegetation loss. In the wake of the 2016 fires, the opportunity is also being taken to survey and document Aboriginal heritage during the narrow window available to assess the post-fire archaeological landscape of the west coast of Tasmania, before regrowth of vegetation cover reduces ground visibility or coastal erosion affects Aboriginal values (Tasmanian PWS 2016a).