Nature Conservancy Conducting Controlled Burns

Madison — September 8, 2008 – The Nature Conservancy is conducting a series of prescribed burns to restore globally rare habitat in the in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. The burns will be conducted by a trained crew and will take place during days of optimal weather conditions over the coming weeks.

They will occur on five prepared units ranging in size from 5 to 20 acres, about 65 acres in all. Each prescribed burn will take about a day to complete. The five units are in Madison and Freedom, on land owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy.

This is the second year that the Conservancy has been restoring the Ossipee Pine Barrens with prescribed burns. Last September, after five years of careful planning and research, the Conservancy conducted its first prescribed burns in the preserve, burning 40 acres on two prepared units. A year later, those areas are now recovering with extensive new growth of pine barrens plant species.

“We learned a lot from last year’s prescribed burns and we’ll be building on those successes as we continue our restoration work this year,” said Jeff Lougee, manager of the Conservancy’s Mount Washington Valley Program. “We learned how the fire and smoke behave under certain conditions. We learned the workings of the fire crew and equipment in this setting. And we learned how the prescribed burns will help us to meet our ecological management and fuel reduction goals. We also had great conditions last year, a fantastic crew, and good support from the towns and community.”

Not surprisingly, one of the Conservancy’s challenges this year has been the rainy weather. Ideal conditions for burning require several continuous days of dry weather, which has been in short supply so far this summer. The Conservancy will burn only when there is the right combination of conditions, which include dry fuels and ideal weather patterns (wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity). Also necessary is an adequate amount of equipment and trained crew, some of whom come from Conservancy programs in Maine and Massachusetts, along with trained partners from other organizations.

The pitch pine/scrub oak woodlands found in near the 4-town conjunction of Freedom, Madison, Ossipee, and Tamworth depend upon fire for their maintenance and regeneration. For thousands of years, fire burned through parts of the Ossipee Pine Barrens every 25 to 50 years, usually ignited by lightning strikes. In recent generations, however, fire has been virtually eliminated from the areas because of improved suppression capabilities and changing land use. Since 1988, when The Nature Conservancy started protecting pine barrens habitat here, one of the organization’s top goals has been to gradually and carefully restore a regimen of prescribed burns to ensure the habitat’s health and vigor.

These lands represent New Hampshire’s last viable occurrence of a northern pitch pine/scrub oak pine barrens. They are an important habitat for several bird species that are declining regionally, such as whip-poor-will, nighthawk, Eastern towhee, and brown thrasher; more than a dozen very rare moth and butterfly species are also found here. Accordingly, protecting and maintaining these pine barrens are among the goals of the state’s recently completed Wildlife Action Plan.

The Conservancy now owns 2,776 acres in the area, including 719 acres protected last year in a campaign involving the community, the state, and a federal Forest Legacy grant. The Conservancy’s prescribed burns here benefit not only the area’s unique flora and fauna, but also neighboring families and businesses by reducing fuel loads that have built up over the decades.

In preparation for this year’s prescribed burns, the Conservancy has cleared fire breaks around areas that will be burned and has widened and improved fire protection roads. The burns will be conducted with the help of partners, including state and federal agencies, local communities, and Nature Conservancy staff. Before any burn, the Conservancy will secure necessary permits from local fire departments and will review burn plans with them. Precautions will be taken to limit smoke and to ensure that the prescribed burn stays within its boundaries. In addition, fire suppression vehicles will be available on-site.

Funds to assist the Conservancy’s ecological restoration of the Ossipee Pine Barrens have come in part from the U.S. Forest Service (Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry), and the U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

[This article was prepared by The Nature Conservancy]

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