The agency's Southern Research Station, headquartered in Asheville, has been planning for months to conduct an experimental burn on about 42 acres in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
Fire affects virtually all forests, ecologists say, and prescribed burns are one of many tools land managers use to achieve desired conditions in managed forests. Yet the long-term effects have not been well studied in the Appalachian Mountains’ moist growing conditions — particularly during the growing season — agency forest ecologist Katie Greenberg told Xpress.
Research station scientists are working to examine the long-term effects of various management practices, including fire, to sustain area hardwood forests. “This study focuses on [burning in] the growing season versus dormant season. We’re comparing three growing-season burns to three dormant-season burns, along with three areas with no fire.”
A key goal is encouraging oak trees, which are valuable for timber and acorns (a staple food for wildlife). In many areas, oaks are aging but not replacing themselves as well as might be desired, scientists say, especially on moist growing sites where competition is greater.
The one-day prescribed burn is part of a longer-term study at Bent Creek, one of numerous research forests the agency operates in the South. The study will help scientists understand how the timing of prescribed burning affects hardwood regeneration as well as herbaceous vegetation, fuel loads and breeding-bird communities.
The targeted areas include forest stands near the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, adjacent to Forest Service roads 479 and 664.The burn will take place when weather and other environmental conditions permit, in keeping with an agency checklist. Wind and humidity are key factors in fire behavior, safety and smoke control. The desired conditions are in the local weather forecast this week.
Agency officials say that several roads and trails in Bent Creek will be closed the day of the burn and maybe longer, if hot spots persist. The agency asks the public to heed signs posted on roads and at trailheads and to stay away from burn sites, closed roads and trails.
The 42-acre burn is part of a larger study site consisting of nine areas, approximately 12 acres each, all together encompassing about 120 acres. Three study units will be burned this summer, and three other units will be burned in the winter. The remaining units will be left unburned to serve as a "control" or reference for assessing the effects of the experimental burn. The Bent Creek study includes repeated prescribed burning at approximately 3-5 year intervals, depending on weather, accumulated forest debris, and the availability of personnel.
Readers may link to our earlier story on the Bent Creek experimental burn here.
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