Banner Year for Prescribed Burning

The Nature Conservancy’s Jeff Lougee offers his observations on this year’s restoration work in the Ossipee Pine Barrens.

Freedom — November 4, 2009 — The forest floor is blackened, and the faint smell of ash permeates the air. There is a scattering of scorched, rusty colored pine needles that have fallen to the ground. On the trunks of the pines, the blackened bark reveals how tall the flames were that passed through, in some places more than 10 feet high.

While it has only been a month since the area burned, bright green sprouts of woodland sedge and blueberry pierce the burned leaf litter. A careful eye can see the beginnings of sprouting new growth on the pitch pines and scrub oak.

A year from now, the forest floor will be a carpet of thriving vegetation. If the burn has done what’s intended, there will be new pitch pine seedlings where the fire has burned to the soil below. The scrub oak won’t be so dominant either, and in its place the sunlight will initiate a release of other plants whose seeds have been dormant for some time.

In two years, the blueberry crop will be vastly more abundant than before the burn. Its new growth will have the ability to produce many more flowers, and then fruit. These are just a few of the signs showing how pitch pine barrens thrive after fire.

Over the months of August and September, the Conservancy successfully completed prescribed burns on over 100 acres of the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve. The purpose of the burns was simple: to maintain one of the best remaining examples of a pitch pine – scrub oak barrens anywhere, and reduce the forest fuels that have built up over the past 50-100 years while fire has been absent.

It’s not easy work, and it can only be done with support from many partners. The prescribed burns at the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve in 2009 were supported by:

• The Albany Pine Bush Preserve
• Americorps
• The Freedom, Madison, and West Ossipee fire departments
• The Maine Army National Guard
• Maine Forest Service
• The New Hampshire Army National Guard
• The Student Conservation Association (SCA)
• TNC staff from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania
• UNH Cooperative Extension
• Volunteers
• The White Mountain National Forest

Over the past three years, the Conservancy has completed prescribed burns on over 200 acres of the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve. The unique pine-barrens ecosystem occupies roughly 1,200 acres of the preserve, most of which the Conservancy plans to have under fire management in the future.

New Hampshire’s efforts using fire for ecological management are part of an even greater Conservancy-wide initiative. In fiscal year 2009, TNC reported burning 135,348 acres in more than 18 states – the highest number on record for the Conservancy to date – and assisted partners with another 187,196 acres in many other great places.

Areas such as the Great Plains and Southeast U.S. burned large acreage while others, like Maryland, grew their programs significantly this year. New Hampshire’s program saw a jump in burned acres this year and looks to double this number next year.

Funding for the Ossipee Pine Barrens fire management program is primarily through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), administered through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Reprinted from The Nature Conservancy’s online newsletter. Visit the N.H. branch of The Nature Conservancy here.

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