A Geographical Information System for Fire Management by the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board
A multitude of unique fauna and flora exist within the Western Cape of South Africa. Fire plays an intricate role in the conservation and extinction of many of these species. It is therefore imperative to understand this delicate relationship in order to help preserve the province’s uniquely balanced ecosystem. The Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (WCNCB) expressed the need for a system that would allow reserve managers to produce basic fire frequency and veld age maps with considerable ease. These maps are needed for intelligent decisionmaking regarding the management of veldfires. Information concerning vegetation and historical veldfires in the Western Cape, collected over a period of 50 years exist in tabular format in databases of the WCNCB. Some of these tables contain spatial information elements, such as areas affected by fires. Tabular data with spatial elements can be converted to a geographical information system (GIS) format, extracting value previously shielded from the user. Using GIS techniques and the programming language Avenue, two tools with powerful decision-making qualities were created to extract value from these datasets. One tool shows the fire history of a specified area as a digital map. This map shows areas with varying occurrences of fires over time, thereby highlighting hot spots within the specified location. The ability to view various fire scar datasets spatially over a specified period, as opposed to records in a table, enables the user to understand the extent to which areas have been repeatedly exposed to fire and quickly identify areas most affected. The second tool shows vegetation age in a similar fashion, allowing the user to see the current spatial distribution of vegetation and its age. Knowledge about the age of indigenous vegetation, such as fynbos, in a predetermined area, facilitates the reserve manager in decisions related to block burning. This is an accepted practise in areas where vegetation requires fire to stimulate germination. Both tools provide decisionmaking support to reserve managers regarding the most suitable course of action in terms of the implementation of a proactive or passive approach towards fires. This study satisfies the needs of the WCNCB by exploring the hidden value within their datasets. GIS supported by the programming language, Avenue, was successfully utilised in the development of a system capable of extracting information from current datasets to support reserve managers in their critical decision-making processes.