Prescribed fire is an important tool for achieving the restoration goals of the Grandfather Restoration Project. Not only does the use of a low-intensity fire reduce fuels that lead to dangerous wildfires, but it also allows managers to restore fire-adapted forests.
Although burned areas can appear bare and inhospitable at first, low-intensity fire benefits the forest by increasing plant diversity, making important nutrients available to plants, allowing oaks to germinate, and providing food for wildlife. Animals are used to fire – they return to the area quickly, and plants regrow even faster than before the burn. Check out this cool time-lapse video showing what happens after a burn from the Clinchfield unit!
Clinchfield Wildlife Timelapse from Lisa Jennings on Vimeo.
A key part of the design of the Grandfather Restoration Project includes adaptive management. Adaptive management describes an approach for improving resource management by learning from management outcomes. In order to learn from our outcomes, the Grandfather Restoration Project has undertaken a robust monitoring plan, including monitoring wildlife, vegetation, and watershed health. Monitoring provides reliable feedback on the effects of management actions, allowing managers to refine decisions and project design. Since fire is a key management tool for the project, many of our monitoring studies revolve around the impacts of fire on the ecosystem. One exciting study we are currently working on involves using wildlife cameras to determine whether wildlife are using our prescribed burn areas more than unburned areas. The pictures below are taken from wildlife cameras within the prescribed burn area.
The wildlife monitoring study is a collaborative effort, leaning on wildlife expertise from Pisgah National Forest and the Grandfather Ranger District, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and The Nature Conservancy. While we hypothesize that wildlife are using the areas within our burn units more than the adjacent unburned areas, we will not be able to draw any conclusions until the study is complete this fall. Stay tuned for an update in September!
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 guidelines 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
A 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:
- What is the role of fire, especially when used as a management tool for oak-dominated ecosystems?
- What is the relationship between early successional habitat and biodiversity?
- 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.