FAQs About Prescribed Burns on the Shawangunk Ridge
What is a prescribed burn?
What is a prescribed burn?
This year’s prescribed burns follow in a long tradition of planned fires on the ridge. Native Americans, followed by European settlers and the huckleberry pickers of the last century, put fire on the ridge to clear land or to increase harvests. Preserve co-founder Daniel Smiley conducted some of the most recent prescribed burns on the ridge in the late 1970s to examine their impact on ridge vegetation.
Prescribed fires have been used nationwide as a land management tool for over forty years. Between 1996 and 2000, federal agencies ignited over 31,000 prescribed fires and burned nearly 8 million acres of land. Of these fires, a mere one-half of one percent escaped from their specified, burn unit boundaries. The Nature Conservancy is a leader in fire management among non-governmental organizations, burning over 100,000 acres annually. From 1989 to 2000, The Nature Conservancy conducted 3,892 controlled burns, of which only one-half of one percent escaped.
Who will be involved? Back
The Gunks prescribed burn teams will draw
on the fire management expertise of Nature Conservancy staff
from throughout the Northeast and from the Albany Pine Bush
Preserve Commission. In 2004, the Albany Pine Bush successfully
burned nearly 150 acres and has averaged 68 acres of prescribed
burns in pine barrens each year since 1991. Also participating
will be qualified Mohonk Preserve rangers, staff from Minnewaska
State Park and Sams Point Preserve, and trained volunteer
firefighters. NYS DEC rangers will be stationed on-hand as
Despite the decline in fire, the ridge remains a fire-prone environment. Every year, dry conditions set the stage for wildfires that can be fed by the build-up of natural fuels, such as dry leaves, woody debris, and highly flammable shrubs. With such high fuel loads, such unplanned wildfires could devastate areas in our forests due to their potential to burn with greater intensity than fires would have historically. This could change forest composition in undesirable ways. If we dont put fire on the ground through prescribed burns, the forest will burn anyway. Instead, introducing fire under controlled conditions will minimize the risk of devastation that can be caused by larger, higher-intensity wildfires.
For these reasons, the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership has identified the absence of planned fire as one of the three major threats to the long-term survival of the ridge. The selective use of prescribed fire will allow us to lessen the threat of uncontrolled wildfire and to safeguard our native species.
Although old fields provide a good place to demonstrate prescribed burn techniques and to strengthen the skills of a prescribed burn crew, the members of the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership also need to prepare for burning the more complicated, fire-dependent communities of the Shawangunks (including chestnut oak forest and pine barrens). Chestnut oak forests, especially those with lower concentrations of mountain laurel, huckleberry and blueberry, provide a good first step towards burning these more complicated wildland fuel types. In addition, pre- and post-burn monitoring in the chesnut oak forest burn units will provide information to help determine how fire can be best applied to manage this fire-dependent forest community.
The burn unit is then ignited using drip torchesportable canisters used to drop small amounts of flammable material (usually a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline) along a fire line. A carefully planned ignition pattern utilizes wind direction, topography, and other factors to help control the spread of fire until it extinguishes itself at the firebreaks, where it runs out of fuel.
Special wildland firefighting equipment also helps control the fire and protect the fire crew such as mobile water sources (e.g. an ATV or pick-up truck with a water tank and pump), flame-resistant clothing, specialized fire control tools (e.g. backpack pumps, a wide range of hand tools), portable pumps and hose.
this affect the ecosystem? Back
Because prescribed fires are relatively small and slow-moving, most wildlife can easily escape the flames by moving to adjacent areas or by hiding in underground burrows. Some birds just fly away, while others such as hawks may soar overhead, hunting for small prey flushed out by the fire. A number of bird species make nests on the ground in grassy fields at the Mohonk Preserve. This years prescribed burns at the Preserve will take place before the nesting season to avoid harming the birds and their nests.
Fire is beneficial because it helps preserve biodiversity by maintaining habitat for rare species such as the blueberry gray moth. Also, the diversity of vegetation can actually increase after the fire. All the dominant barrens plants possess adaptations to survive recurring fire. Scrub oak, pitch pine, low-bush blueberry, and huckleberry have the ability to reproduce from roots once the stem is killed by fire. The roots are protected from the heat of fire by mineral soil. After fire, scrub oak sprouts vigorously, sending up as many as 20 to 40 stems. Once the canopy is opened up by fire, it may provide opportunity for wildflowers that may benefit from increased light on the forest floor.
Changes brought on by the fire can create habitat that draws an influx of new species, while other species may decline in response to the changed environment. Burned trees can provide shelter for small animals and an abundant food source for wood-boring insects such as ants, beetles, and wasps. While the post-burn conditions may be less hospitable to some nesting birds, they may help others to thrive, by meeting their specific habitat, food source, and nesting requirements. For example, a 1995 study in California showed that nests located within the burn zone had a success rate 15% higher than in the unburned habitat. In this way, prescribed burns can help increase biodiversity by providing food and shelter for a changing variety of wildlife.
Burns will be conducted under conditions that will direct the dispersal of smoke away from developed areas. The small amount of land being burned will also limit the amount of smoke created.
After the burn, Sams Point visitors may notice charred trunks, while on the Mohonk Preserve, visitors will see burned stubble in the fields. On-land signage will help visitors understand the effects and benefits of prescribed fire. Visitors will be encouraged to look for the greening of the fields and new forest growth in the following spring.
Neither the burns at Sams Point or at the Preserve will pose a significant threat to adjacent, developed areas. Both burn zones are in uninhabited areas, extensively buffered from development. Nonetheless, all adjacent developed areas will be identified and measures taken to ensure their protection.
How was the project planned & funded? Back
Through this collaborative effort, the Partnership will be implementing the recommendations of its own Protection and Management Guidelines for the Shawangunk Mountains, the Preserves Old Fields Management Policy, and Sams Points Master Plan. The results of these demonstration burns will inform the development of a collaborative, long-range Fire Management Plan for the Shawangunks.
The Shawangunk Ridge has been designated as anchor site of the Northeast division of the North American Fire Learning Network (FLN). A joint project of The Nature Conservancy, the USDA Forest Service and the Department of Interior, the FLN was created in 2002 to catalyze efforts to reduce hazardous fuels at both local and national levels.
Where can I learn more? Back to top
For more information, contact: Back
|The work upon which this publication is based
was funded in whole or in part through a grant awarded by the Northeastern
Area State and Private Forestry, USDA Forest Service.
© 2013 Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership