Full announcement from the U.S. Forest Service:
ASHEVILLE, N.C., Sept. 14, 2012 -- The USDA Forest Service plans to conduct a one-day prescribed fire on 33 acres of forest in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in late September or October. The prescribed fire will occur on three small parcels of 10, 14, and 9 acres.
The prescribed fire is part of a multi-year research study by the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a research location of the Southern Research Station that studies upland hardwood ecology and management. The project will help researchers better understand the effects and benefits of prescribed fire in mountain-hardwood forests.
The Forest Service will conduct the one-day prescribed fire on National Forest land in Buncombe County. The Forest Service's National Forests in North Carolina will plan and supervise the prescribed fire. The following roads and trails will be closed during fire activity: Ledford Branch Road parking area (will be used as staging area by Forest Service personnel the day of the prescribed fire); Ledford Branch Road; Rice Pinnacle Road; Deer Lake Lodge Trail; Wolf Branch Trail; and Ledford Trail.
"The safety of the public and firefighters is the number one priority," said Riva Duncan, fire management officer with the National Forests in North Carolina. "The public is asked to heed signs posted at trailheads and roads and to stay away from burn sites and closed roads and trails."
The prescribed fire will occur when environmental conditions permit; wind and relative humidity are key factors in fire behavior, safety and smoke control. The Forest Service is required to meet state air quality requirements and will conduct smoke modeling to determine the optimal conditions for minimizing the effects of smoke. The proper personnel and equipment will be on site during and after implementation of the prescribed fire.
Scientists at Bent Creek will compare the effects of the growing season (June to mid-October) prescribed burn with a dormant-season burn to learn how timing affects hardwood regeneration, herbaceous plants, fuel consumption, and breeding bird communities.
The agency plans to burn three units in the fall of 2012 and three other units during the winter. The agency will not burn the three remaining units, which serve as a control or reference for assessing how fire affects hardwood ecosystems. The overall study site consists of nine adjoining units, about 12 acres each, totaling nearly 120 acres. The Bent Creek study includes repeated prescribed burning at approximately three-to-five year intervals, depending on weather, fuels and the availability of personnel.
Following loss of the American chestnut in the 1920s, oaks dominated most central hardwood forests, providing acorns for wildlife and high-quality timber. In the Southern Appalachians, however, as mature oaks die they may not be replaced by younger oak trees. Prescribed fire has been used to increase oak regeneration in some areas of the South, but there are few long-term studies measuring how it affects mountain-hardwood ecosystems, and even fewer studies examine the effects of prescribed fires conducted in the growing season or late-growing season. This scientific study at Bent Creek Experimental Forest promises to inform and guide hardwood ecosystem restoration efforts in the Southern Appalachians.
Historically, fire was used by Native Americans and settlers to maintain an open understory, but in the 1930s, forest fires began to be viewed as destructive and were suppressed whenever possible. Fire suppression increases wildfire risk as fuels (woody debris and shrubs) accumulate.
For more information on prescribed fire, visit the U.S. Forest Service website http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/management/.