Rockhouse Creek Prescribed Burn: First ever Growing Season Burn for US Forest Service in the NC Mountains

Exciting news from the Grandfather! We found a window of rain-free days and were able to pull off our first growing season burn yesterday at Rockhouse Creek. This is the first time that a landscape-scale growing season burn has been implemented on Pisgah or Nantahala NFs (beyond site prep burning). While the stated goal was fuels reduction, we were also looking to further the ecosystem change at the site from a mostly closed-canopy Oak-Hickory forest with little herbaceous growth, to a more open woodland condition with a diverse understory.

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Stats

Date: July 8th 

Size: 560 acres

Location: Wilson Creek headwaters near Roseboro, NC

Purpose: Fuel Reduction

Partners: NC Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Appalachian RD, Pisgah RD, Tusquitee RD, Cheoah RD, Nantahala RD

Treatment #: 4th (last 3 burns were dormant season, last burn 5 yrs ago)

 

The Rockhouse unit was lit by hand, with lighting crews working along the ridges and holding crews along the roads. While humidity was predicted to drop into the 40s the afternoon of the burn, spot weather indicated humidity in the 60s-70s on the site. A dense layer of Mountain Laurel regrowth on the ridges kept the humidity even higher near the ground. Because of the high humidity, it was difficult to get the site to burn even with receptive fuels.  Generally, following ignition we’d get good initial intensity, but it would weaken pretty quickly.  Intermittent 10mph gusts, cloud breaks, and canopy gaps would help increase intensity and spread, and certainly areas where we would strip farther downslope and get some run upslope helped as well. We were able to blacken an estimated 25% of the burn unit. The burn plan differed from dormant season burns in that care was taken to limit flame lengths to 1-2ft to limit overstory hardwood mortality.  

 

Although only 25% of the unit burned, we count this as a success, both in reducing fuels and allowing fire managers in western NC experience with growing season burns. It also provided a great training opportunity for summer students training in fire from the Tusquitee, Cheoah, Nantahala, and Grandfather RDs to participate in a prescribed burning operation. We will look at conducting another growing season burn next summer, taking into account lessons learned from the Rockhouse site. We will look for burn units with a more open overstory, larger pine component, and a shorter time since the last entry (2-3yrs) to increase the receptiveness of the fuels.

 

6 monitoring plots were installed in the Rockhouse burn unit, and pre-burn monitoring was conducted prior to this entry using the Fire Learning Network protocol. We will conduct immediate post burn monitoring over the next couple weeks, and will look at results again next growing season. I will share that data with the group once we get a good picture of the impacts of the burn.

 

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