Long Term Study on Prescribed Burning in Eastern Forests

A study was recently published in the journal of Forest Ecology and Management that looks at prescribed fire use over 60 years. Scientists monitored control, annual burn, and periodic burn plots in an Oak-Hickory stand in Missouri. Results showed that understory species richness was over three times greater in both burn treatments when compared to the control.

Results from this study support our hypothesis that long-term, repeated prescribed burning can be used to reach Knappseveral objectives related to woodland restoration and management in hardwood ecosystems, including creating a two-layered vertical structure and increasing the abundance, richness, diversity, and evenness of the understory plant community. Although previous studies demonstrated the effects of long-term burning on the structure of pine ecosystems, this study is the first to document similar effects in oak-hickory communities. Silvicultural prescriptions for reaching woodland objectives in hardwood ecosystems often include combinations of thinning and burning to reduce canopy density and increase the herbaceous vegetation response (Peterson et al., 2007; Kinkead et al., 2013; Brose, 2014). Our results suggest that, over long time periods, burning alone can reduce canopy density to create conditions associated with woodlands.

View the article here: Structure and composition of an oak-hickory forest after over 60 years of repeated prescribed burning in Missouri, U.S.A


New Article Reviews Prescribed Fire Use in Upland Oak Forests

Restoring oak forests is a priority area for the Grandfather Restoration Project and the National Forests in North Carolina wildlife management program. An article recently published in the Journal of Forestry summarizes findings of 40 years of research on prescribed fire in upland oak forests in the Eastern United States.

“A chronological review of the scientific literature pertaining to fire– oak research shows how the science has developed through time and has produced several management oaksguidelines for the upland oak forests in the eastern United States. Prescribed fire can be used in mature stands to begin the regeneration process by reducing dense understory shade and preparing a seedbed for new oak seedlings. However, care must be exercised so as to not destroy a recent acorn crop or kill small oak seedlings. Prescribed fire can also be used near the end of the regeneration process to release oak reproduction that is being outcompeted by taller, faster-growing mesophytic hardwood reproduction… Finally, fire can be used long term to recreate open oak woodlands similar to those that used to exist in many parts of the eastern United States. In all scenarios, foresters must also be mindful that prescribed burning stimulates germination of the seed bank, encourages establishment of exotic and native plant species, and attracts deer. Therefore, landowners and managers of upland oak ecosystems will need to carefully use prescribed fire so as to accentuate its benefits while avoiding its negative effects.”

Because of the lack of early-successional forests on the Grandfather RD that provide herbaceous growth for wildlife, animal species in the area are highly dependent on hard mast trees such as oaks and hickories. Oaks provide forage for a variety of game and non-game wildlife including deer, bears, squirrels, turkey, red-headed woodpeckers, and Appalachian wood rats. This article will help to inform managers on the Grandfather RD on the best techniques for reintroducing fire to oak ecosystems in order to improve wildlife habitat across the landscape.

Access the article on the Journal of Forestry website here: Development of Prescribed Fire as a Silvicultural Tool for the Upland Oak Forests of the Eastern United States


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.




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.


New Publication Answers Restoration Questions

GTRA newly released publication from the Southern Research Station in Asheville provides answers to questions regarding restoration in the Southern Appalachians.

The publication, “Restoration in the Southern Appalachians: A Dialogue among Scientists, Planners, and Land Managers”, addresses three key questions for restoration ecology in the Southern Appalachian Mountains:

  1. What is the role of fire, especially when used as a management tool for oak-dominated ecosystems?
  2. What is the relationship between early successional habitat and biodiversity?
  3. How do we regenerate oak ecosystems? 

In addition to addressing current questions in restoration ecology, the publication provides an extensive list of the scientific literature for restoration and fire management in the Southern Appalachians.