In early 2020, the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel, in collaboration with different government agencies, non-government organisations, scientific institutions, the private sector, the National Environmental Science Program and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, identified 810 priority species and ecological communities for urgent management intervention:
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National fire severity dataset
On 9 July 2020 the department released the national fire severity dataset Australian Google Earth Engine Burnt Area Map (AUS GEEBAM), developed in collaboration with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE).
The dataset was developed at the request of the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel and internal biodiversity, regulatory and investment teams to be used in analysis to support investment actions in the following identified priority bushfire recovery activities:
- Protecting unburnt areas within or adjacent to recently burnt ground that provide refugia
- Feral predator and herbivore control to reduce the pressure on native species where appropriate
- Emergency salvage of plant and animal species for ex-situ conservation or wild-to-wild translocation
- Rapid on-ground assessment for species and communities of concern
- Supplementary shelter, food, and water for animals where appropriate.
The dataset aims to provide a nationally consistent picture to enable continental-scale analysis of burnt areas in response to the extraordinary 2019-20 bushfire season. This is of great importance when assessing the impact of a fire within Australian ecosystems as fires burn with varied intensities and can leave a landscape burnt at a range of severity levels. The dataset is an important analytical tool for the department to assist in quantifying the potential impacts of bushfires on wildlife, plants and ecological communities, and identifying appropriate response and recovery actions.
Please refer to the dataset report for a detailed explanation of fire intensity and severity, the method used to derive severity estimates, and caveats around the dataset quality.
Australian Google Earth Engine Burnt Area Map Methodology Report (PDF - 3.38 MB)
Australian Google Earth Engine Burnt Area Map Methodology Report (DOCX - 15.69 MB)
The dataset is designed to identify priority investment areas for the department. It is not designed for targeted analysis of specific species in isolation and may not be of the same quality as individual state and territory products.
Some states and territories have already published their own fire severity dataset for the 2019-20 bushfires. While every effort has been undertaken to align AUS GEEBAM Fire Severity with the state and territory products, it is unlikely the same quality has been achieved in all areas. Due to different classifications and methods used across the jurisdictions, the state and territory products could not easily be combined to form a consistent national dataset.
Depending on individual needs, the department recommends assessment of the individual state and territory products as they may be more suitable for local analyses.
Guidance for post-fire on-ground assessments
The National Environmental Science Program’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub has developed guidance to highlight design considerations for conducting post-fire reconnaissance surveys to assess fire severity, habitat condition and threats, as well as the status of priority threatened species and ecological communities listed by the Australian Government as most vulnerable to the 2019-20 wildfires. It reviews the published literature on the preferred sampling method(s), minimum survey effort and the optimal timing of surveys to detect priority species and faunal threats with a high degree of confidence. Careful consideration of these factors in the design of post-fire reconnaissance surveys will maximise the chance of understanding the impact of the fires while providing the necessary information to prioritise management.
The methodology is not a mandatory requirement, it is intended to provide guidance for the delivery of projects funded by the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program that include assessments; however, its value is likely to extend to other stakeholders undertaking on-ground assessments. Species distribution models and spatial prioritisation are being built for 471 priority listed plants.
National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset
On Thursday 13 February 2020, the Department released a National Indicative Aggregated Fire Extent Dataset (NIAFED) on behalf of the Commonwealth Government that aggregates available fire extent data for the 2019/20 fire season, starting on 1 July 2019 and provides a cumulative national view of the areas potentially impacted by fires across Australia.
The NIAFED has been developed rapidly to support the immediate needs of the Department in:
- quantifying the potential impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires on wildlife, plants and ecological communities, and
- identifying appropriate response and recovery actions.
The intent was to derive a reliable, agreed, fit for purpose and repeatable national dataset of potentially burnt areas across Australia for the 2019/20 bushfire season.
The dataset has a number of known issues, both in its conceptual design and in the quality of its inputs. These are outlined in the metadata and should be taken into account when interpreting the data and developing any derived analyses. In addition, the 2019/20 bushfire season is ongoing and it can be expected that the fire extent will increase.
The dataset takes the national Emergency Management Spatial Information Network Australia (EMSINA) data service, which is the official fire extent currently used by the Commonwealth, and adds supplementary data from other sources to form a cumulative national view of fire extent. This EMSINA data service shows the current active fire incidents, and the NIAFED shows the total fire extent from 1 July 2019 to the 11 Feb 2020 including planned fires such as back-burning and hazard reduction, as well as fires that might be considered 'normal' for certain parts of Australia.
Not all areas within the fire extent will have been equally impacted by fire. Some areas will have been severely burnt while other areas may have been less impacted. Some areas may not have burnt at all. Information about fire severity and impacts is being analysed and will be validated with on-ground information once it is safe to enter burnt areas.
The Department is using the NIAFED layer, restricted to the Preliminary analysis area map (PDF - 2.18 MB) (PAA), to provide the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel with indicative current national assessments of environmental values potentially affected by fires since 1 July 2019. This includes plants, animals, ecological communities, heritage areas and important wetlands many of which are listed Matters of National Environmental Significance under the EPBC Act. For example, in the case of EPBC-listed species, the Department’s existing species distribution models are intersected with the restricted PAA fire extent layer to determine the percentage of the known and likely habitat for each species potentially affected by fires. Species distribution data is available via our Find Environmental Data web page.
The NIAFED layer, restricted to the PAA, has informed the development of the List of protected species in bushfire affected areas (XLSX - 74.21 KB) released on 20 January and the Provisional list of animals requiring urgent management intervention (DOCX - 44.88 KB) released on 11 February.
Impact of fires on World Heritage Areas
On Thursday 13 February, the Department released maps of the impacts of the 2019-20 Bushfires on three World Heritage Areas: Greater Blue Mountains (NSW), the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (NSW/Qld) and the Old Great North Road (NSW, part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Area).
The maps indicate that bushfires have had the following impact on these properties:
- Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (NSW, Qld) – approximately 54 per cent affected
- Greater Blue Mountains Area (NSW) - approximately 81 per cent affected
- Old Great North Road (one of the Australian Convict Sites) (NSW) – fire travelled over 99 per cent of the property, preliminary advice is there is limited damage to the values.
Other World Heritage Areas (Budj Bim Cultural Landscape (Vic), Fraser Island (K’gari) (Qld), Wet Tropics (Qld) and Tasmanian Wilderness) have also been affected.
Maps of fire affected World Heritage Areas result from a preliminary spatial area analysis with mapped fire extents from state fire agencies. These initial extents are indicative only, and are just the first step in understanding the potential and actual impacts of the bushfires. The maps represent only the outline of burnt areas and lack information on fire severity in these areas, which may often include patches within them that are very lightly or completely unburnt. Impact assessment will be improved following development of a separate fire severity product.
Bushfire impacts on World Heritage as at 12 February 2020:
Map 1. The Greater Blue Mountains Area and Australian Convict Sites (Old Great North Road) (PDF - 795.39 KB)
Map 2. Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (entire property) (PDF - 514.9 KB)
Protected species in bushfire affected areas
On Monday 20 January 2020, the Department released an initial list of threatened and migratory species which have more than 10% of their known or predicted distribution in areas affected by bushfires in southern and eastern Australia from 1 August 2019 and 13 January 2020.
Preliminary results indicate that:
- 49 listed threatened species have more than 80% of their modelled likely or known distribution within the fire extent
- 65 listed threatened species have more than 50%, but less than 80%, of their modelled likely or known distribution within the fire extent
- 77 listed threatened species have more than 30%, but less than 50%, of their modelled likely or known distribution within the fire extent
- 136 listed threatened species and 4 listed migratory species have more than 10%, but less than 30%, of their modelled likely or known distribution within the fire extent.
The threatened species include 272 plant, 16 mammal, 14 frog, nine bird, seven reptile, four insect, four fish and one spider species. An additional four listed migratory bird species are not listed as threatened.
The threatened species are currently listed as Critically Endangered (31 species), Endangered (110 species) and Vulnerable (186 species) under national environmental law. The listing status of some of these species may need to be reviewed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee once the impacts of the fires are better understood.
- Threatened and migratory species known or predicted to occur in areas affected by bushfires in southern and eastern Australia from 1 August 2019 and 13 January 2020 (XLSX - 74.21 KB)
- Preliminary analysis area map (PDF - 2.18 MB)
About the data
This analysis compares maps of fire extent from state fire agencies with maps of the modelled distributions of species protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The species distribution maps include areas where listed species are known to occur, or are predicted to occur based on their habitat preferences. The analysis covers bioregions that have been impacted by fires in south-west Western Australia, southern South Australia, Victoria, southern and eastern New South Wales, south-eastern Queensland and Tasmania. The analysis area may be refined in future updates. Further information about the analysis is included in the spreadsheet.
These initial results are indicative only, and are just the first step in understanding the potential impacts of the bushfires. Some species are more vulnerable to fire than others. Some areas were more severely burnt than others. For example, the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis occurs within the extent of the bushfires and appears in this dataset, but the Department has received reports that the pines were successfully protected from fire. Some species which were not in the path of the fires have been removed from the results, based on advice from state agencies. Further updates will be made to incorporate local and expert knowledge.
The Department is working with states and territories and scientific experts to improve the mapping and determine the likely response of these and other species to fire and understand critical knowledge gaps. This will help to refine the list of species of greatest concern, to guide decisions about emergency intervention to help with the immediate survival of affected animals, plants and ecological communities. Once it is safe to enter fire-affected areas, it may be possible to more accurately assess the severity of the fires and the impacts on individual species. Fires are continuing to burn in parts of Australia and the fire extent mapping will be continue to be updated. New information will feed into future updates.
Many species not currently listed under national environmental law will have had much of their range affected by the fires and, in some cases that impact may mean that these species have become threatened. The Department will be considering assessments of these species in the near future.
Please note: This analysis only covers the koala populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory which are listed as Vulnerable under national environment law, not those in South Australia and Victoria which are not listed.