Major fires on the periphery of Australian cities are reframing perceptions of what constitutes effective landscape planning and vegetation management. The emerging governance challenge to simultaneously mitigate wildfire risk and support improved conservation practices is reviewed in the context of pre-colonial and modern cultures within the peri-urban Mediterranean climatic region of South Australia's Mt Lofty Ranges. The analysis suggests that anthropogenic burning of landscape has been a vital historical component of risk management. During the early modern era however, improved capacities to manage wildfire risk led to complacency in light of the hazard, which in turn has led to urbanization that has not sufficiently accounted for the levels of risk. A planning conflict is emerging within the wooded uplands as there is renewed interest in wildfire risk, which is reflected in new state policies providing greater allowances for land owners to clear vegetation around dwellings. Although attempts have been made to constrain urban growth around the city of Adelaide, recent workshops with key environmental management stakeholders suggest that urbanization continues within the Mt Lofty Ranges in areas that are both highly vulnerable to fire and of great importance for biodiversity conservation, such that planning is not reflecting the cultures of risk or biodiversity value. For such risks and values to be taken into account within reflexive systems of governance, the narratives on opportunities for adaptation generated by the people who facilitate vegetation management must be accommodated into deliberations on policy. The identification and planning of particularly vulnerable and valuable spaces within the broader landscape and cultural contexts of risk and value would enable complex, targeted responses to environmental hazards, conservation and development needs in the peri-urban uplands.