Acadia Recap: The Great Acadia Fire 70 Years Later

By Amanda Mahaffey
Photos by Amanda Mahaffey

On October 17, 1947, a fire started in Bar Harbor, Maine, that spread through the town and Acadia National Park. Meanwhile, wildfires sprang up across the drought-stricken Northeast, posing unprecedented challenges. Newspaper headlines blazed, winds shifted, and forests and towns burned while communities grappled with understanding and trying to control the wildfires. By the time the ash settled, the people affected knew that they must prepare in new ways for the next big one.

In October 2017, 70 years after the catastrophic fires, partner agencies and organizations came together to commemorate these historic events and share lessons learned about fire science and wildfire preparedness since the catastrophic 1947 fires. This series of events brought together folks from all sectors of the community. It was truly a partnership event, and the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange owes a huge thanks to the Maine Forest Service, Acadia National Park Fire Management Office, Bar Harbor Historical Society, the Mount Desert Island Fire Chiefs, all the speakers and participants, and the partnership between the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact and our own NAFSE organizers and community representatives.

This event was all kinds of awesome. On Monday, October 16, a scientific panel convened at the Schoodic Institute to address land manager preparedness under different climate scenarios. On Tuesday, October 17, Bar Harbor Fire Department hosted several tables of 1947 fire information and showcased antique historical firefighting equipment. Tuesday evening, the panel featured Lloyd Irland presenting on "What Happened" in the 1947 fire, Bill Patterson showing the data on "Could it Happen Again," and Tom Parent outlining "What if It Happened Again." These gentlemen were joined by four Mount Desert Island Fire Chiefs, plus Tony Davis from Acadia National Park and Jeff Currier from the Maine Forest Service Rangers who answered audience questions.

See below for presentation .pdf's and audio recordings of the presentations as well as the panel Q&A session audio recording:

Lloyd Irland's slides and audio (separate files)
Bill Patterson's slides and audio (separate files)
Tom Parent's slides and audio (separate files)
Panel Q&A audio

On Wednesday, October 18, we had an awesome field trip group, which included many Maine Forest Service Rangers and NAFSE community members who contributed to active and great conversation. Our bus tour traced the path of the 1947 fire, and at each stop, we talked about operations, fire behavior, changes since then, and the need for more public engagement in wildfire preparedness. Doctoral student Jess Charpentier and Professor Emeritus Dr. Bill Patterson III shared information on fire ecology research.

At the first stop, Lake Wood, participants learned that the pollen record shows that fire was part of this landscape. Every 100-200 years, a large fire or wind event would cause a shift in the tree species composition. Spruce-fir forest belongs in this landscape and should be so managed. Study plots could help resource managers and fire people work better together within the Park.

The group stopped at a vista near Dolliver’s Dump, the site of the 1947 Acadia fire ignition. Today, under the same conditions, the Maine Forest Service and partners would have been able to hold the fire to the first 160 acres (pre-blowup). Firefighting equipment and communications have improved, structural protections are better, and fire departments would be coordinated and better prepared. Additionally, forewarning and weather predictions would be much better, and we would plan tactics accordingly.

At the Eagle Lake stop, we learned how research documented the increase in downed trees and fuel load from 1980, 1992, to 2016. The fuel loads measured at this site are fairly consistent with those in parts of Mount Desert Island that escaped the 1947 fire. We were reminded to “prepare for the average worst.” You never know exactly where, when, and how bad a fire might break out, but you can prepare for a window of disaster based on the hazardous conditions.

From the top of Cadillac Mountain, the group enjoyed a vista of pitch pine stands that stand as a living testament to the fire history in Acadia National Park. Meanwhile, the wind and sweeping perspective helped the group picture how the fire traveled across the island 70 years earlier.

At the last stop, the Tarn, the group was shown more vegetation plots that illustrated where the fire burned through, the site yielded hardwood species, but also spruce regeneration. Spruce scorched (but not charred) during the 1947 fire retained cones, which later regenerated into the spruce understory that exists in this unburned stand today.

One of the coolest elements of the field trip was the fact that our weather was almost identical to the conditions of 70 years ago. When we stood at the Mount Desert Island high school and listened to a dramatic reading by Dave Crary of an account of the 1947 fire crowning and jumping the road, winds picked up out of the west, and it was easy to imagine what happened 70 years ago on that very spot. What an amazing experience to retrace the path of the Great Acadia Fire of 1947 with experts in the field! 

For more information about the 1947 fires, please visit

The field trip crew!

The field trip crew!

Albany Pine Bush: Fire and Fuels Monitoring Workshop

Written by Inga La Puma
Photos by Inga La Puma

I was super excited to attend the Fire and Fuels Monitoring workshop and the opportunity to visit a unique outlying pitch pine/scrub oak ecosystem in Albany, New York for the first time. About 40 other folks were heading up to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Discovery Center to make some serious headway on figuring out how to monitor fuels and fire effects. Little did we know we would be coming out of this meeting with a draft monitoring handbook for our region! I was in the New Jersey group along with several of my state colleagues and looking around I saw so many familiar faces from NAFSE activities we have hosted over the last two and a half years. What a great gathering of interested and passionate fire folks! Each table was a conglomeration of agencies and stakeholders, mainly from one state or region. In this way, all perspectives could be incorporated into designing a monitoring protocol for wildland fire and prescribed burns. 

First we heard from Neil Gifford on the efforts underway at Albany Pine Bush in relation to fire and the restoration of the Karner Blue butterfly populations and habitat. The Albany Pine Bush Commission has come such a long way in the face of extraordinary challenges set amongst this suburban interface. Next we heard from Brian Sterns with an overview of what metrics are available to measure for fire effects with a wrap-up from Nick Skowronski. The theme was that "no one method fits everyone" and tailoring our monitoring protocol to our management needs was the way to go. It was a little rainy, but we were still able to head out on the trail to familiarize ourselves with the local system. We would be expected to practice our monitoring techniques on this system, so it was good to get a feel for it. This was all before noon! 

Then, we went out to an area we used as a proxy for pre-burned conditions. Each group was assigned to try different monitoring practices in order to familiarize ourselves with the effort and technique for each. For example, our group did soil duff measurements along regular increments from plot center to 20ft out. We also measured scrub and tree height and recorded all of the species present in our plot. As we worked we realized how easily the sampling methods could get overbearing and un-workable for managers. The question then became, how could we get the information we needed for our region's specific needs with the most streamlined sampling techniques available?

The next morning, Mike Gallagher presented his Ph.D. work on evaluating burn severity using remote sensing and also introduced us to composite burn index (CBI) plots. The methodology of calibrating remotely sensed images to plot level data and extrapolating the information across the landscape seemed very appealing to many groups, and several incorporated it into their practice monitoring. We put the CBI protocol into practice with some minor adjustments next. We headed outside the building to plots that had been recently thinned and burned (still black!). What a difference! Measurements of plots went much faster but it was more difficult to identify species and live versus dead shrubs. We tried one more site in a thinned and burned stand where re-sprouts were plentiful. Utilizing our techniques on several different types of plots gave us perspective on what type of plots we wanted to sample and how we wanted to organize our long-term sampling efforts. For New Jersey, we thought about what kind of team it might take to sample some areas more intensively, especially those areas that demonstrate management goals such as fuel reduction and forest health.

We entered data, we evaluated pre- and post-burn results, and one person from each team presented our results to the other participants. It was similar to what a manager might need to do on their home turf to demonstrate the outcome of different prescribed fire and fuel treatments. Finally, we put together a draft monitoring protocol handbook with much help from an example handbook provided by Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium. Each group described what to do and how to do it to accomplish the management goals of their region and presented their work to the rest of the room. Workshop participants came away with a draft protocol for sampling and monitoring fire and fuel effects. Whether the protocol is used or not, we now have a quorum of fire managers in the North Atlantic Region who understand how and what to monitor after fire. I for one look forward to more workshops like this, with hands on learning and real results to further fire science in the North Atlantic.

A bonus of this trip was one of our last stops, where we got to see the Karner Blue butterfly in action on a restored area that had been thinned and burned and contained a healthy population of lupine. The lupine plant is where Karner Blues lay their eggs and is the exclusive food of Karner Blue butterfly caterpillars. Check out this amazing photo of the butterfly mating! You wouldn't know it, but these beautiful creatures aren't much bigger than your thumbnail!



Long Island Workshop Recap: Keeping the pine in the pine barrens

Written by Inga La Puma and Kathy Schwager
Photos by Inga La Puma

It was a rainy day for travel, but as speakers and participants from the region gathered on a Wednesday night in early May for an evening discussion with fire managers, it quickly became obvious that we were in for a treat. As a New Jersey wildland fire scientist, the Long Island pines had always intrigued me, and I was sincerely excited to finally see the area. It just seemed so weird to me that there would be a coastal plains pitch pine community ON LONG ISLAND. Just as Before I moved to NJ, I pictured it as an industrial area (it mostly isn't). Similarly, I had pictured Long Island as mostly developed; but here we were at Brookhaven National Lab surrounded by forest! It was quite a pleasant surprise. The main difference I noticed right away was that the trees here seemed smaller and closer together than our pinelands in NJ, at least near the highways.

The agenda began with an evening discussion panel which included Tim Kelly, Deputy Fire Chief at Brookhaven National Laboratory who is responsible for 5000 acres on the site with only 6 firefighters to assist him. Also present were Tom Gerber, Section Warden, NJ Forest Fire Service, who conducted prescribed fires on up to 5000 acres this year in the NJ pinelands as well as Alex Entrup, Senior Specialist, Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC, who used to burn with The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. Finally, Brian Gallagher, a NY state forest ranger for 18 years who is attempting to bring prescribed fire back to the island's forests.

There was an in-depth discussion of equipment and tactics for fighting fire in the pinelands effectively. I was fascinated by the stories of evolving communications between local fire departments and state and federal partners. The most recent fire on Brookhaven lands benefited greatly from an improved command structure compared to previous large fires. One of the more salient points that was made was this: the time to talk about health and safety of firefighters and the community is not DURING a fire, but now, when fire management plans and fuel reduction actions can be most effective. A local fire department chief noted that local fire chiefs do seem interested in gaining operational training for wildland fire since the Sunrise fire of 1995 and Brookhaven fire of 2012, but that these volunteer departments are already strapped for time and money. Having prescribed fire trainings on the weekends would help.

The next morning we were treated to several presentations designed to give context to wild and prescribed fire efforts in Long Island. Bill Patterson, Neil Gifford, and Tim Simmons provided the first set of talks and the morning panel, offering outside perspectives of the issues facing other pine barrens ecosystems in the Northeast in comparison to Long Island, including seasonality, habitat restoration, and dealing with the wildland-urban interface.

The Long Island pine barrens are under increasing attack by the southern pine beetle. We heard from Jack Nowak, a southern pine beetle and fire expert from Asheville who stressed the importance of spacing between pines and the role of prescribed fire. Ken Clark who studies the effects of southern pine beetle in the New Jersey Pinelands also spoke. Then all of the speakers got together at the front of the room along with locals John Pavacic, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission, and John Werner, of NY State Department of Conservation to answer questions and continue the discussion

Kathy Schwager, Brookhaven ecologist and Community Representative for NAFSE, started out the afternoon field trip with stops at local burn units as well as the 2012 Crescent Bow fire. She and her team are monitoring fuels after fire as well as infestations of orange-striped oak worm and gypsy moth attacks from the early 2000’s.  We visited one unit in particular where basal area had decreased to 70 ft. squared per acre, but live fuel loading had increased by over 400% due to the opening of the canopy. (Kathy and crew were able to burn this unit last month). Kathy also discussed the mesophication that they are documenting through their forest health monitoring.

Next, we visited the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Rocky Point Demonstration Forest adjacent to several communities and values at risk, where they are thinning, burning, or thinning and burning several plots. The management plan for these plots includes continued monitoring to determine the effects of reducing basal area and removing fuels to benefit forest health and prevent southern pine beetle invasion.

As a result of this workshop, increased coordination and communication has evolved in the area. Cooperators have burned almost 200 acres of grassland in the pine barrens this spring and have started conducting growing season burns in woodlands at Brookhaven Lab. These are the first woodland burns conducted on Long Island since 2008. The workshop was another example of how discussing research, visiting sites and promoting face to face social issues works! Finally getting to the Long Island pine barrens was everything I had hoped for, but my increased understanding of local research and communication was the real treat.


Field Trip Recap - History of fire management at Camp Edwards: Lessons, challenges, and future objectives

Field Trip Recap - History of fire management at Camp Edwards: Lessons, challenges, and future objectives

Contributed by Amanda Mahaffey
Photos by Amanda Mahaffey, Joel Carlson and Robert Wernerehl

On Thursday, January 29th, 2017, over 50 people gathered for a day-long introduction of fire management at Camp Edwards, the 15,000-acre Massachusetts Army National Guard land within the 22,000-acre Joint Base Cape Cod. This NAFSE field trip was hosted by Jake McCumber, Natural Resources and Integrated Training Area Management Program Manager for the Massachusetts Army National Guard in collaboration with Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC and the Massachusetts Coastal Pine Barrens Partnership. The participants included fire managers, Americorps members, foresters, wildlife biologists, botanists, and conservation professionals. The diversity of ages, agencies and organizations, and experiences with fire on the Cape enriched the quality of conversations throughout the day.

The field tour stops provided a snapshot of the history and ongoing management at Camp Edwards and included managed grasslands, an observation point, a wildfire, an active firing range, recent mechanical and burn treatments, and a frost bottom. The overarching land management objectives at Camp Edwards are to (1) reduce fire hazard; (2) improve training lands; and (3) promote wildlife habitat and species diversity. A central management challenge at Camp Edwards is the 3,000-acre impact area, a portion of the base riddled with unexploded ordnance with a history of munitions-caused wildfires. The Base also contains and abuts significant WUI areas. Every managed acre at Camp Edwards embodies the human decisions made in an attempt to balance these three objectives and primary challenges.

After a brief welcome and site orientation, the field trip participants loaded into a bus and vans. The morning would provide an overview of fire history and management at Camp Edwards. The bus paused in the midst of former barracks and parade grounds now managed as native grassland through fire (including firefighter training), mowing, and herbicide to benefit many wildlife species, including several with populations in decline (Stop 1). Next, the group visited an observation point atop a glacial esker that under clear skies, offers a vista of the managed pinelands, the impact area, and the WUI beyond (Stop 2).

Stop 2, Observation point

Stop 2, Observation point

The group was walked the road at the Infantry Battle Course Range (Stop 3), an area that once received intensive training use but now is managed for early successional species such as New England cottontail. A rare lightning-caused fire spread during the growing season (July) in 2016. The group discussed the spread of the fire, the tactics and coordination of massive resources used to manage and contain it, the fire behavior exhibited, and the lessons learned from this unusual occurrence. Because of the hazard of unexploded munitions in the impact area, the fire was allowed to grow to 120 acres over three days, bounded by safe fire breaks. The fire was described as almost a drought, duff-driven fire and smoldered for a couple of weeks. All agreed that the picture would have been significantly different - bigger and more dangerous - had the lightning strikes occurred during the spring.

Stop 3, Walking the road.

Stop 3, Walking the road.

The next stop took the group to Sierra Range (Stop 4), an active firing range surrounded by pitch pine-scrub oak woodlands and shrubland. Here, the group explored the contrast in fire effects produced in two adjacent units under different burn conditions.

After lunch, the group had the opportunity to dig in deeper to look at fire impacts on the ground (Stop 5). First, a short walk took us to a vista that illustrated the contrast between a high-intensity fire (high flame lengths, running crown fire) and a high-severity fire (smoky, droughty conditions, deep burn over 2 weeks, low flame lengths). Next, we had a look at a rare frost bottom natural community, a depression in which temperatures can change as much as 60 degrees in the course of a day, creating unique conditions to which a specialized variety of flora and fauna are adapted. The group continued through the unit to examine differences in effects in untreated, thinned, thinned and burned, and burned areas. Many side-conversations developed and explored themes ranging from forest health to scrub-oak species differentiation.

The group wrapped up with an amazing diversity of lessons learned from the day. As participants expressed, it is important to learn from each others’ successes and mistakes and to share experiences effectively, as through a field trip. Success at Camp Edwards can be defined as keeping diversity high, keeping up with monitoring, evaluating effects, employing adaptive management, and working cooperatively with Cape Cod’s fire science and management community to ensure a safe and resilient landscape.

To learn more about fire management at Camp Edwards, we invite you to explore the resources below.

Virtual field trip map, by Jake McCumber, Camp Edwards

Field trip handout, by Jake McCumber, Camp Edwards

Field trip photos, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management  

Summer wildfire photos (Stop 3, IBC Range), by Northeast Forest & Fire Management

RxB photos at Sierra Range (Stop 4), East Side Burn, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management  

RxB photos at Sierra Range (Stop 4), West Side Burn, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management  

RxB photos at I Range (Stop 5), 1st Burn, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management  

RxB photos at I Range (Stop 5), 2nd Burn, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management



Ann Camp: Afire for teaching

Dr. Ann Camp recently retired from the faculty of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where she ignited a passion for fire in countless students and colleagues. NAFSE caught up with Ann to hear more of her story and to better understand the legacy of her teaching in fire science in the Northeast.

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Ann’s first fell in love with fire while working in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where she became fascinated by the way fires influenced this ecosystem. Her passion for fire science was truly ignited during a Fire Ecology course at the University of Washington. Ann went on to study the work of Dr. Jim Agee, Dr. Thomas Ledig, Dr. Murray F. Buell, Dr. William S. Cooper, Dr. Benjamin Stout, Dr. Hugh Raup, and others who influenced the way we understand the role of fire, fire exclusion, deer, anthropogenic ignitions, and forest succession today.

Ann began fueling the fire in the ecology community (metaphorically speaking, of course) as a USDA Forest Service researcher and doctoral candidate. With the listing of the Spotted Owl as an endangered species, forests needed to be managed to include their preferred habitat (late successional) which was vulnerable due to the fuel ladders within this habitat structure. Ann’s work provided guidelines on where fire could be sustainably incorporated within a fire-regulated landscape. “Before my PhD came out in the peer-reviewed literature, I photocopied literally hundreds of copies of my dissertation as news of my work spread throughout the Inland Western U.S. and Canada,” said Ann, “My work on late-successional fire refugia in fire-regulated landscapes was rewarding in that many public and private forests incorporated my findings into their management plans.” 

While Ann loves low-elevation ponderosa pine forests in the Pacific Northwest, the New Jersey Pine Barrens are another favorite ecosystem. “I love canoeing the small rivers in southern NJ (how I spent my undergraduate weekends when I wasn’t rock-climbing!). I love the upland forests dominated by pines and oaks and the Atlantic white cedar swamps and bogs,” says Ann, “A wild and fascinating place - especially in the 1960s and 70s.” Such perceptions helped shape Ann’s fascination with the changing role of fire in ecosystems. Ann reminds us that “Forestry and Fire Science are, above all, social sciences because people care about forests and have opinions about their management. You may be the best scientist in the world, but if you can’t speak to the concerns of the public, you will get nowhere in having your science findings implemented on the ground. The biophysical science part is the easy bit - it’s the human dimensions of land management that are difficult, and can often change abruptly. One escaped fire that causes a civilian fatality means that you might lose that tool for a long time. ”

Ann sees such challenges for fire scientists and managers in our region. “While the North Atlantic region has several kinds of ecosystems (oak savannah, pine barrens, even meadows) that depend on fire, its use is hindered by dense populations, critical transportation infrastructure, and issues of air quality. And a public that still often sees fire as undesirable and not the best tool for restoration. Re-introducing and keeping fire as a part of these ecosystems will only get more difficult.” To help address these challenges, Ann has dedicated her teaching career to infusing knowledge, curiosity, and a passion for fire in a generation of land managers, scientists, and environmental leaders. In the words of Erin Lane, co-founder and coordinator of the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange, “Ann’s skills are exceptional, but her willingness to get outside and experience science is what sets her apart. The Northeast is fortunate to have benefited from Ann Camp’s vast knowledge, unique expertise, varied abilities, mentoring skills, teaching talents, and most importantly, unsurpassed dedication to growing future leaders.” 

At the Yale Forestry School, Ann took students to the southeastern longleaf pine forests on the annual southern forestry field trip. During these trips, Ann viewed each day as an adventure and shared her excitement for silviculture, harvesting, prescribed fire, forest health, forest administration, and other forestry issues; visited a range of mills; and explored southern culture, history, and cuisine with her students. (Ann’s co-instructor for many of these trips, Mike Ferrucci, noted that Ann told many a skeptical student that “in the South, pork is actually a vegetable.”) Knowing that classroom learning should be leavened with some practical experience, Ann found many places to visit where the local managers would let her and the students “light the woods on fire,” as prescribed burning is sometimes called. As her colleague described, “Of course after all the students had their turn, Ann would always end up with the drip torch or, even better, the tool that launches the flaming ping-pong balls. Yes, my colleague is a fire-bug!”

Many cohorts of Ann’s students credit her courses as the most important in preparing them for their management careers. Ann has high standards for her students and has been known to say, “If I give you an easy exam where you memorize facts, that won’t help you at all in the real world. When you get out of here, you will have to solve messy ecological and restoration problems. I am training you to think holistically so you can go attack the current issues facing forestry today.” These same frustrated students always return to tell her how much they appreciate what they learned in her classes. Not just the content, but the methods. In the words of Marlyse Duguid, lecturer and associate research scientist at Yale, “Ann is a remarkable scholar, but is incredibly grounded. Forestry and field ecology are messy disciplines. Ann trains her students to use the tools available, but to think critically and improve current knowledge.” As one former student articulated, Ann’s Fire Science and Policy class “pushed me to look beyond facts and think more critically about how and why society manages fire, a change that inspired me to work directly with land managers to seek answers to the many challenges faced by changing fire regimes in the United States.”

Beyond teaching, Ann’s greatest legacy to future fire scientists and managers is her incomparable mentorship. In Erin Lane’s first phone conversation with her future mentor, Ann said, “I have 100 students and I have time for you, too!” Jim Cronan, research forester with the USDA Forest Service, points to graduate research under Ann’s guidance that shaped his career in fire behavior. In Jim’s words, “Ann supported my efforts to propose a large research project with multiple academic and land management partners, an endeavor I never would have considered in my wildest graduate school dreams. It was her positive, anything-is-possible attitude that inspired me to think big and push myself hard. It was her practical knowledge of the bureaucratic labyrinth of rules and policies that made it possible to actually complete the work correctly. Her ability to help me realize my potential has been unmatched by anyone else I have worked with. I imagine that I am not alone in this regard, and there is no doubt in my mind that Ann’s overwhelming commitment to her students has created a large cadre of passionate natural resource professionals across the world whose level of achievement and self-confidence was given a big boost by Ann.” As Maryse said, “Once Ann is your mentor, you have gained a life-long ally and confidant.”

Among her achievements, Ann Camp has found teaching and mentoring the next generation of forestry and fire professionals extremely rewarding. As Mike Ferrucci describes Ann, “What I’ve learned from my friend and colleague can’t all fit into this note. But I’ll try to summarize: listen, observe, take pictures, think critically, and show your enthusiasm for learning and exploring, and your students and colleagues will prize their time with you.” The North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange is grateful to have Ann Camp’s legacy of science and teaching in our landscape.

This article was written by Amanda Mahaffey with significant contributions from Erin Lane, Marlyse Duguid, Jim Cronan,  and Mike Ferrucci. 

Tim Simmons: Conservation Ecologist with a Passion for Fire

April 26, 2017 will mark the 30th anniversary of habitat burns in Massachusetts. Tim Simmons, a restoration ecologist recently retired from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, had a lot to do with that first habitat burn and the decades of ecological fire since. In the densely-populated North Atlantic region, human decisions and societal norms can be seen as a significant driver of fire in our landscape. Tim Simmons has played an immense role in helping shape Massachusetts’ fire-adapted landscape - including both natural and human communities - for the better.

Tim’s passion for fire science was ignited in the 1980s while he was conducting surveys for imperiled plant and animal species. Tim observed a pattern: Some of the most imperiled species were associated with fire-influenced habitats. Right then, Tim resolved to learn as much as he could about conducting prescribed fires and the ecological effects of fire. He set about doing just that, and in doing so, helped lead the region into a new era of prescribed fire to improve wildlife habitat.

“Looking back on my 30 or so years working with him,” says Dr. Bill Patterson, emeritus professor from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, “I see Tim as a natural historian who knows at least a little bit (and sometimes a lot) about more different aspects of natural history than just about anyone with whom I have worked with in the field. And, he is willing to consider any reasonable management protocol to benefit a population or species, while at the same time recognizing the possible benefits and risks to other species and populations.”

This open-minded approach to habitat management was not without controversy, and the many challenges of returning ecological fire to the landscape could fill a book. Through every adventure or misadventure, “Tim was always one who was not swayed by the many obstacles we faced in those early days of getting fire back on the landscape,” says Caren Caljouw, habitat biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “He helped pave the way for the successful use of prescribed fire in a responsible manner in Massachusetts and throughout New England.”

Tim has a passion for pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and all their embedded habitats including heathlands, grasslands, savannas and coastal plain ponds and wetlands. As Tim has described, “No two sites are the same, they’ve all had different fire and land use histories, support similar biotas, are under duress from a variety of sources, and are way more complex than we can imagine.” To help deepen regional knowledge and interest in such ecosystems, Tim supported the development of programs that sponsored Master’s degree students in answering research questions and seeing their results applied to ongoing habitat management. As the regional fire manager for The Nature Conservancy’s New England region, Tim was involved in such work at many sites and calls the long-term results “striking” and “gratifying.” The impact of such work has multiplied: “Many of the results generated here in Massachusetts were exported to other states struggling with the same issues.”

The Tim Simmons approach to conservation ecology “requires patience, flexibility, and ingenuity; and thinking in ‘nature's time’ rather than ‘human time,’” says Dr. Patterson, “While working with him at Montague, I came to appreciate that the best management scheme is one that is implemented widely, but in small increments, and in every possible season of the annual cycle of nature.” Tim’s management approach also embraces a multitude of disciplines; he has been described by his colleagues as a skillful land manager, naturalist, entomologist, and fire ecologist, and as a fire practitioner with extensive knowledge of fire behavior, fire effects, and conservation biology. “I recall many days in the field where I would excitedly point out a plant or plant community’s response to fire, and Tim would not only acknowledge that but would enthusiastically expand upon that observation by sharing his understanding of the benefits of fire to a multitude of species, plants and animals, and the significance of their inter-relationships in our natural world,” says Caren, “He is always willing to share that knowledge with others.”    

This willingness to share knowledge is fundamental to the Tim Simmons approach to conservation ecology in the human dimension. Tim has given countless presentations throughout his career and has empowered planning boards, fire departments, students, and conservation-minded citizens with an increased understanding of fire ecology in the pine barrens ecosystem. Tim teaches people as naturally as he studies complex ecosystems. His passion for fire ecology is contagious, stimulating new ways of thinking in those around him. Because of this inspiring commitment, says Caren, “his contributions to prescribed fire and biodiversity conservation are tremendous.”

Tim has also been a regular instructor in a series of professional trainings on the planning and implementation of prescribed fire, hosted at the Massachusetts Army National Guard training facility with numerous partners on Cape Cod. Joel Carlson, principal with Northeast Forest and Fire Management, LLC, says, “Tim’s participation in wildland fire trainings in Massachusetts over the years has been of great benefit to not only the students but also his co-instructors. His wealth of knowledge related to fire ecology and prescribed fire operations has always flowed freely and in an expert manner in his usual soft spoken way. By sharing his knowledge, Tim reminds us all why we should be committed to the fire management New England’s pyrophilic natural communities.”

Members of the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance (SEMPBA) could not be more appreciative of Tim’s work in the coastal Massachusetts pine barrens landscape. A 1998 poster that hangs on the walls of the SEMPBA office, Treasures of Our Natural Heritage Coastal Plain Ponds of Southeastern Massachusetts, beautifully combines art and environment to portray this imperiled ecosystem. SEMPBA’s Sharl Heller and Frank Mand believe that this highly-effective educational illustration, which Tim helped promote, is missing only one critical element - Tim Simmons himself.

“Tim understands the importance of engaging the public in conservation,” write Sharl and Frank. Tim’s active engagement in SEMPBA, an all–volunteer organization of people concerned about the loss of globally rare habitat, was crucial in the recent formation of the Pine Barrens Regional Conservation Partnership. As Sharl and Frank have summarized, “Tim’s dedication to the preservation of the southeastern Massachusetts landscape, coupled with his ability to explain complex ecosystems to lay people, has simultaneously educated and inspired us to keep moving forward against huge challenges. In the face of continuing and increasing pressure to develop these precious resources, we need more Tims, Tim Times Two-Hundred.”

Tim himself sees opportunities to continue learning about fire. “When burning was a novelty instead of a well-established management practice thirty years ago, there was much more quantitative monitoring occurring,” Tim says, “One goal of every burn should be: what do we want to learn from this burn?” Tim also highlights the need to educate regulators responsible for air quality as smoke becomes increasingly important as an issue. “We need research to quantify prescribed fire emissions and their contribution to air quality impacts and emissions trade off models to address these perceptions and reverse the trend to try to reduce prescribed burning because we really need to be doing much, much more if the declining habitats and their dependent species are going to be conserved.”

As Dr. Patterson has learned, “Conflicts arise. Nothing is perfect. But doing nothing is often worse than doing something, so long as you do not do "something" to *everything* all at once! I firmly believe in this management approach, and I do not think I would have come that appreciation had it not been for the opportunity to work with people like Tim!”

When asked what advice he would share with the next generation of fire scientists and managers, Tim shared the following: “Like the proverbial hammer wielder to whom all problems are nails, fire practitioners must understand that fire is a complex process and it interacts with many other variables and the answer to all conservation questions is not always a drip torch.” If we follow the example of Tim Simmons, we will continue learning about and thoughtfully stewarding these complex, fire-adapted ecosystems and the communities that call them “home.”

This article was written by Amanda Mahaffey with significant contributions from Tim Simmons, Bill Patterson, Caren Caljouw, Sharl Heller, Joel Carlson, and Frank Mand.

Joint Fire Science Governing Board: Field trip to the NJ pinelands

NAFSE was privileged to host the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) Governing Board (the folks that decide whether to fund our Exchange activities) for a science and management field trip on Oct 19th, 2016 in the New Jersey Pinelands. The warmer than normal fall day began at Stockton Seaview Inn as we gathered to explain how the day would proceed, focusing on JFSP funded projects in the morning and management applications in the afternoon. We then boarded shuttle buses for our excellent field tour of areas in the pinelands used for fire science research and management activities. NAFSE leadership would like to thank all of the scientists, managers, and community representatives who spoke to the Governing Board about their important work in New Jersey and beyond. Each speaker's handouts are linked in the agenda below along with a few videos of take home messages recorded during the wrap-up session. Also, don't forget to check out the virtual field trip with contributed photos for each stop (thanks to Karen Prentice, Maris Gabliks, Amanda Mahaffey and Inga La Puma for photos).

Overall, the trip went well and although the NAFSE leadership team came home with a few chigger bites, we hope our guests did not!

New Jersey Field Trip Agenda – 10/19/16

8:00     Field trip overview: Stockton Seaview - Fire History Map of Field Trip Area >
Introduction - Dr. Nick Skowronski, USDA Forest Service, NRS, NAFSE
Welcome Stockton University – Dr. George Zimmermann, Stockton University
Field trip logistics- Dr. Nick Skowronski

8:30     Depart for Stop 1 – Mini-buses
9:00     Field Stop 1: Penn State Forest
9:05 Walking Stop A:
Pinelands Fire Ecology – Dr. George Zimmermann, Stockton University - Handout.pdf>
Historical Perspectives - Tom Gerber, Section Firewarden NJFFS and private landowner
Penn State Forest and 2016 RxB - Shawn Judy, Assistant Division Firewarden, NJFFS

9:50 Walking Stop B and C:
Evaluation and Optimization of Fuel Treatment Effectiveness with an Integrated Experimental/Modeling Approach. JFSP Project: 12-1-03-11

o   Overview and three-dimensional fuel consumption - Skowronski - Handout.pdf>

o   New measurement tools – Bob Kremens, Rochester Institute of Technology - Handout.pdf>

o   Fire Environment and WFDS modeling – Eric Mueller, University of Edinburgh - Handout.pdf>

Measurement of firebrands generated during fires in pine-dominated ecosystems in relation to fire behavior and intensity. JFSP Project: 15-1-04-55

o   Overview and preliminary results – Dr. Rory Hadden, PI, University of Edinburgh - Handout.pdf>

o   SERDP project integration – Dr. Albert Simeoni - Handout.pdf>

10:45 Walk back to bus
10:55   Depart for Stop 2 (30 min.)
11:25   Field stop 2: Cedar Bridge (Flux tower)

Station 1 Flux Tower
USFS Fire Weather Research - Flux tower

o   Tower Network - Dr. Kenneth Clark, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

o   Meso-scale modeling - Dr. Jay Charney

Station 2 Plow Line
Development of Modeling Tools for Predicting Smoke Dispersion from Low-Intensity Fires. JFSP Project: 09-1-04-1

o   Field Component - Dr. John Hom, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

o   ARPS modeling - Dr. Warren Heilman, PI, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

Station 3 Fire Tower

12:25 Depart for Coyle
12:30   Lunch: Coyle field
12:30-12:50 Eat (BOY)

NJFFS Welcome –Bill Edwards, NJFFS
NAFSE overview and partnerships - Dr. Inga La Puma, NAFSE - Notes.pdf>

1:30     Depart for Stop 3
1:50     Stop 3: Whiting
WUI Issues and community response - Greg McLaughlin,

Firescapes in the mid-Atlantic: Mismatches between social perceptions and prescribed fire use. JFSP Project 16-1-02-05

o   Overview Dr. Erica Smithwick, PI, Penn State University - Handout.pdf>

The Whiting community fuels project - Bill Zipse, Regional Forester, NJ Forest Service - Handout.pdf>

 2:45     Wrap-up
Field trip report out and discussion - Amanda Mahaffey, Forest Stewards Guild NE Regional Director

Videos of take home messages:

Canadian Fire Science Exchange Day Recap

The North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (NAFSE) teamed up with the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact to hold a workshop at the fall meeting of the Atlantic Forest Fire Managers in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The theme of the meeting addressed a common concern on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border: the potential impact of spruce budworm on fuels and fire behavior in our forests.

On September 14, 2016, over 60 forest fire managers and other natural resource professionals gathered at the Hugh John Fleming Forestry Complex Theatre in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The "science day" has become a staple of the Atlantic Forest Fire Managers' end-of-season operations meeting, allowing these professionals to spend a day focusing on the science behind their work. The Fire Science Exchange Day was orchestrated by Stephen Tulle, a Forest Ranger in the Wildfire Training Unit with the government of New Brunswick.

The day featured three in-depth presentations and visits to labs and test sites that comprehensively told the story of the growing threat of spruce budworm and fire hazard in the North Atlantic. Drew Carleton, Provincial Entomologist for New Brunswick, outlined the basics of the spruce budworm life cycle and what that means for opportunities to monitor populations and detect outbreaks. Carleton outlined the options for action during an outbreak, which could range from doing nothing and accepting an estimated $6.7 billion loss to the New Brunswick economy to implementing an early intervention strategy to alter spruce budworm population trends. Carleton described the Early Intervention Strategy Program of the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency and the effects it might have on the pest, the forest, and other biota.

The next two speakers addressed fire behavior. Mike Wotton, a Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, presented on Fuels and fire behaviour potential in Spruce Budworm impacted forests: the FBP System and beyond. Wotton described the evolution of the FPB model, ongoing research and geographic applications, and recent updates that have been made to more specifically address budworm-killed or similar stands. One rule of thumb to consider is that the rate of flame spread increases ten years after a pest attack. Bill DeGroot, also a Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service presented on Using CanFIRE to calculate fire behaviour in SBW affected forests. DeGroot walked participants through a run of the CanFIRE model, which is available for free online as a web application or as an Excel spreadsheet. A frightening take-home from these calculations is that in a stand of dead balsam fir, fire could spread 2.7 times faster than live stands; budworm-killed stands are "a highly explosive fuel type" under the wrong conditions.

The afternoon of the workshop included tours of provincial and national labs studying the budworm and tracking its spread through the Canadian Maritimes. The tours included a look at the entire process from the suite of monitoring traps for moths to the processing of branches to count spruce budworm larvae. The July 27 mass-migration event of spruce budworm moths into New Brunswick was also discussed. This event was picked up by Doppler radar and looked like snow. Moth carcasses flew thick through the air and had to be shoveled away. Trees swarmed by moths appeared to be moving of their own accord. The workshop participants left with an in-depth understanding of the threat posed by this forest pest to the forest and the associated fire danger for which we must prepare.

Copies of the presentations can be found on the event page and more photos from the workshop can be found on the flickr page. Also, check out our Canadian focused research brief on WUI delineation in Nova Scotia and major fire history in New England and the Atlantic provinces as well as our webinar on mountain pine beetle associated with this workshop.

This summary was submitted by Amanda Mahaffey.

Fire in Oak Workshop Recap: Regional Differences, Local Applicability

The North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (NAFSE) held a two-day workshop on Fire in Oak: Regional Differences, Local Applicability. Hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MA DFW), the workshop featured a full-day field trip to fire-influenced oak sites in the vicinity of Westborough, Massachusetts, as well as an outstanding indoor program featuring speakers with fire and oak experience in New England and beyond. Participants came from federal, state, and local agencies as well as universities, conservation organizations, and consulting businesses, all with an interest in fire, oak, or both.

Click the map image to access a virtual field trip.

Click the map image to access a virtual field trip.

The weather on June 15 was perfect for the field trip, and over 50 participants crowded into the bus and vehicle convoy, ready for a full day of learning. The first stop brought us to Crocker Conservation Area, a property of the North County Land Trust in Fitchburg. This area was swept by a large forest fire in November of 1948, as evidenced by fire scars and the quality and composition of the residual stand. Forester Roger Plourde is working with the land trust to outline achievable management objectives and implement treatments that reflect the site history and values the land provides. A chief objective is to promote mast species such as red oak to benefit wildlife and wood product markets while improving the overall health of the stand (for example, by reducing infected areas of beech and leaving some resistant beech) and protecting the water quality in the nearby Overlook Reservoir. Roger showed the group several stands that had been affected by the 1948 fire that had undergone various treatments since then. One participant noted that there was not a lot of deer browse in the area. The absence of deer browse promoted the regeneration of oaks and was attributed to hunting. It was noted that the area was ‘at goal’ for deer density. The group discussed treatment options and the potential for fire to be used in combination with silviculture to achieve the desired results at Crocker Conservation Area. One participant pointed out that fire treatments would have a longer maintenance time scale than silviculture treatments alone, as the areas would need to be re-burned approximately every five years until conditions were ripe for a pre-mast year. However, the cost of such maintenance burns would decrease with every fire.

First Field Trip Stop at Crocker Conservation Area with host Roger Plourde. Photos by Joel Carlson and Inga La Puma.

Our second field trip stop brought us to Green Hill Park in the heart of the City of Worcester, a forested green belt maintained as parkland for over a century. Here, a “delinquent-dependent” fire regime (i.e. juvenile delinquents set fires) has sustained a chestnut oak woodland that features chestnut oak, black oak, scarlet oak, and red oak on rocky soils. MA DFW restoration ecologist Chris Buelow and habitat biologist Caren Caljouw described the stand history and studies of the vegetation on site. The group witnessed firsthand the vigor of the fire-dependent natural communities that included ericaceous shrubs and scrub oaks, as well as a diversity of oaks in all strata of the forest. Chris noted that there is also a high diversity of moth species in the park. Discussion focused on how to maintain this site (rather than restore it) with prescribed fire using the natural fuel breaks of the trails and other borders. 

Second field trip stop at Green Hill Park with hosts Chris Buelow and Caren Caljouw. Photos by Inga La Puma.

The third and final field trip stop provided yet another exciting contrast in the suburbanized Massachusetts fire landscape. Perkins Farm Conservation Area is an 80-acre woodland adjacent to a shopping center and was the site of Worcester’s last working farm. Like Green Hill Park, it bears evidence of a “delinquent-dependent” fire regime. More recently, however, Perkins Farm Conservation Area was the site of a graduate student study in 1999. Brian Hawthorne, now a habitat biologist at MA DFW, described the site history and treatments with input from Dr. Bill Patterson, emeritus professor at UMass-Amherst. The last fire in the area was thought to be 10-15 years ago until during the field trip, when Dr. Patterson discovered evidence of a recent fire. Additionally, it was noted that in some areas where there was a lot of shade, no maples were establishing. This was attributed to a lack of seed source in the area. There was discussion about the best time to burn to promote oak regeneration, ideally after maple bud break and before oak bud break. Additionally, to restore oaks, it was suggested that burning every few years would prepare the seedbed for good acorn years that occur every 5-7 years. Some oak trees produce more acorns than others and should be recognized, but the soil moisture of an area would also determine success. The Perkins Farm field stops stimulated intense conversation about fire history and the potential for future management with fire in mixed oak woodlands.

Third field trip stop at Perkins Farm Conservation Area. Photos by Joel Carlson.

The field trip discussions were the perfect backdrop for the indoor program on June 16. NAFSE workshop coordinator Amanda Mahaffey described the goals for this gathering, which include sharing information about fire in oak systems, helping participants connect science to practice in these systems, and framing questions that can help us better understand and manage fire-influenced tree oak systems. Dr. Patterson welcomed the group with an overview of the role of fire in shaping Massachusetts’ oak landscape, noting the variability of maple densities in the understory between the eastern and western parts of the state. Chris Buelow and Caren Caljouw gave a virtual tour of fire-influenced tree oak communities, including landscape history, stressors such as deer herbivory, and associated flora and fauna that benefit from fire in oak systems. Interesting sites included dry mesic oak-hickory sites with more sedges and yellow oak sites with higher pH.

To see pdf's of all presentations click here.

The next segment focused on the benefits of fire in oak-dominated natural communities. Dr. Marc Abrams, a professor at Penn State University’s School of Forest Resources, described the long-term relationship between human communities, fire, and oak in New England’s forest ecosystems. He noted that 100 birds and other mammals depend on oaks as a major food source. Dr. Abrams also pointed out that we currently have no historical precedent for maple dominance in Eastern forests and that oaks are more drought-tolerant than maples, which could be helpful knowledge given predicted climate fluxes. Next, Peter Grima, service forester with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, described the ecological backdrop and his fascination with the role of fire in the Berkshires, an area not famous for its fire history, but with obvious signs of fire invading into some areas. The story continued with a presentation by ecologist Diane Burbank and silviculturalist Jeff Tilley on The Dome, a rare oak community in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont adjacent to Massachusetts’ Berkshires.

Peter Grima top left and Diane Burbank bottom right. Photos by Amanda Mahaffey and Joel Carlson.

The afternoon program delved into operational challenges for using fire in oak and the opportunities for the fire-silviculture combination tool for securing oak regeneration. Joel Carlson, principal of Northeast Forest and Fire Management, LLC, outlined the steps needed to implement safe and ecologically sound fire on the ground in Massachusetts. We should not be discouraged; as Joel reminded participants, “Some of the greatest learning can happen in adaptive management.” He recommended going looking at the classic “Rainbow Series” reports on fire in ecosystems, which contain a series of informative before-and-after photos in oak ecosystems. John Scanlon, habitat program leader at MA DFW, used data to paint a picture of the composition and health of Massachusetts’ forests and the opportunities for fire, silviculture, and deer herd control to increase resilience in the state’s treasured oak forests. Dr. Jeff Ward, chief scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, presented findings from recent research on fire and silviculture in Connecticut, including timing of prescribed burning in combination with shelterwood harvests to optimize oak regeneration. He noted that areas with hotter fire had less resprout of maple. The final presentation by John Neely of the White Mountain National Forest, rounded out the geographical tour of fire in oak in New England with a look at fire and silvicultural tools with numerous on-the-ground examples in the oak component of this national forest in New Hampshire.

Afternoon breakout session and Joel Carlson - right. Photos by Amanda Mahaffey.

To capture the questions posed throughout the program, the participants worked in breakout groups to identify the most urgent and salient questions for oak systems as well as guidelines for managers to use fire as a tool in fire-influenced oak systems. NAFSE leadership team members Erin Lane, Inga La Puma, and Nick Skowronski facilitated the discussions. One group teased out factors other than fire that create this type of system, such as mineral bedrock and disturbances other than fire. Other questions included: what is the effect of single versus repeated treatments interacting with different types of structure; and what are the interactions between prescribed fire, wildfire, deer browse, and light? Another group determined that we still do not have irrefutable evidence that silviculture without fire or herbicide treatments in the place of fire is not as successful as prescribed fire practices. The third group determined that because every site is different, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment; rather, a combination of fire and silvicultural tools based on site climate, structure, and species can help achieve oak restoration or maintenance goals. One group noted that ten acres with rare species could be equivalent to 1,000 acres with common species. To successfully achieve management goals, future scientific research can help us ascertain New England-specific modeling results, while greater experience, trained personnel, and funding will help implement fire on the landscape.

The Fire in Oak: Regional Differences, Local Applicability workshop brought together fire scientists and land managers for excellent information sharing.  We are building the regional knowledge base of people at work in these systems. As one speaker said, there are 1,000 stories per acre in these forests. It is imperative for us to ask what types of management will help us achieve our objectives, and it is up to us to write the next chapter. 

A great few days at the Oak Capstone - photo by inga la puma

A great few days at the Oak Capstone - photo by inga la puma

One Fire Day: Neil Gifford - Albany Pine Bush Preserve

This month's story is brought to you by Neil Gifford, Conservation Director for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and NAFSE Community Representative. Neil describes their journey towards implementing growing season prescribed fires and the challenges and successes along the way. Enjoy, and thanks Neil!

A New Rx: Creating safer and more effective fires in the WUI

After decades of suppression, implementing ecologically meaningful fire in the Albany Pine Bush urban landscape was particularly challenging until we modified how and when we implemented prescribed burns.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission began using prescribed fire in 1991 with the guidance of The Nature Conservancy and the watchful cooperation of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. The goals were to restore globally-rare, inland pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, and recover the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Similarly to many other parts of the Northeast, spring and fall dormant season fires were most numerous, and therefore believed to be the most beneficial to our conservation goals. However, decades of accumulated fuels and flammable pine barrens plants made dormant season prescribed fires intense and flashy, commonly producing rapid rates-of-spread and flame lengths of 10-30 feet.

Despite this fireline intensity, few of these fires resulted in severity sufficient enough to reduce invasive woody growth, consume litter and duff, expose mineral soil, or foster recruitment of native grasses and wildflowers needed by the Karner blue. This behavior, coupled with the complexity of burning in a heavily developed landscape, meant individual burns needed to be small (2-10 acres) to ensure safe operations and 100% mop-up by dark. Small burns proved feasible, but resulted in limited contiguous burned acres in any given year and little benefit in fuel reduction or habitat restoration at the desired scale.

After a small escape during a dormant season fire in 1999, it became clear that we needed to find a more effective way to approach our fire management program. Specifically, we needed to increase fire severity (aka reaction intensity) by reducing rates-of-spread and increasing residence time. Considering that growing season fires occurred periodically in the past, and that UMass-Amherst research showed woody shrub vulnerability to post leaf-out fires, we suspected growing season treatments might be effective for our purposes. However, we doubted our ability generate the fire behavior we desired as well as appropriately manage smoke in the growing season given our typical summer weather and the live fuel moisture that comes with it. The 1999 escape led to changes in the program, including a decision to mechanically rearrange dense barrens fuels as a pretreatment to dormant season fire. These changes brought about an interesting hypothesis. Could burning these mechanically-treated areas after green-up generate the fire behavior and range of effects we were looking for?

Pre and Post mowing June 2003                                           

Pre and Post mowing June 2003                                           

To investigate this potential, we teamed up with the New York Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were able to use their hydroaxe to mow an eight-acre scrub oak thicket in June 2003. On July 29, we attempted our first growing season “mow+burn” treatment on one half of the treated acres. With light winds and relative humidity in the high 30s, we set a test fire to observe combustion, consumption and smoke behavior (to ensure appropriate lift and dispersal). Considering the fuel arrangement within the unit, it was not expected to result in either significant combustion or consumption. With nearly two months regrowth, the live-to-dead ratio was approximately 1:3 with a 24 to 36 inch resprouting shrub layer (primarily scrub oaks and heaths). The fire behavior was favorable, and in fact the fuels in the test site burned extremely well. Topography proved to be the main factor influencing fire behavior, and with ROS at the maximum acceptable limits, the test fire was extinguished. While the active flaming front was easily put out, the scrub oak mowing slash continued to smolder for over an hour. It was apparent that while we achieved prolonged residence time, we had not reduced the ROS.  

On July 31, with light winds (1-5 mph) and higher RH (upper-40s), we again attempted to burn these 4 acres. Following improvements to the 8-10 foot firebreak, raked to mineral soil, ignition began at 12:30 p.m. Fire spread and behavior was favorable, and the fuels burned very well, but rates of spread were much slower than we experienced on the 29th. Flame lengths were ~20 feet for the head fire and 2-4 feet for the backing and flanking fires, respectively. Considering this was an experiment, ignition proceeded cautiously, and it took two hours to ignite the four-acre site using narrow strip/head fires progressively across the unit. To expedite ignition in subsequent growing season mow+burn treatments, ignition incorporated multiple, simultaneous parallel flanking fires. Burning under higher relative humidity (40-55%) also allowed us to use unmowed fuels and the associated moisture of extinction to help slow and/or stop the flaming front. Without mowing slash, advancing fires would quickly diminish or extinguish altogether.

Headfire: 15-20’ flame length (not to be confused with flame height)

Headfire: 15-20’ flame length (not to be confused with flame height)

In the past, untreated pine barrens fuels would not carry growing season fire under approved prescriptions. In comparison, these mow+burn fires resulted in approximately 90% consumption of all fuels. The cured slash drives fire behavior, generating heat sufficient to preheat and ignite both dead and live fuels. The anticipation of more difficult smoke management did not materialize. Due to the moisture content of live fuels, we expected growing season burning to generate more eye-level smoke than dormant season fires. However, the exact opposite was observed as combined radiative and convective heat generated sufficient vertical lift to adequately disperse smoke.

Relative to both dormant season fires and untreated growing season burns, this and many subsequent growing season mow+burn treatments met or exceeded our objectives. Specifically, the technique has proven effective in largely eliminating mowed slash, reducing litter and duff, and exposing mineral soil. Post-season evaluations suggest several growing seasons are necessary for woody shrubs to recover from the combined “double stress” of being mowed and burned in a single growing season. The reduced shrub canopy provided for increased grass and wildflower cover. Mature pitch pine mortality was high with the initial four-acre burn, with 50% (10 trees) completely senescent one year after the burn. We were able to reduce this mortality to 13% in subsequent treatments by leaving an approximately six-foot buffer of unmowed fuels around pitch pine trees. Lastly, burning under higher humidity in the growing season allowed for the safe use of light wind speeds (0-2mph), and when combined with better smoke dispersal, provided more in-prescription burn days. This allowed us to successfully burn adjacent units over the course of the burn season and create larger contiguous burned areas, more characteristic of the historic fire regime. This ultimately reduced fuels and improved wildlife habitat at a meaningful scale.

Since implementing this technique in 2004, we have not only increased our annual area burned, but we have observed many significant ecological benefits. In addition to the good response of on-site native grasses and wildflowers, these treatments enabled post-burn lupine (Karner blue butterfly obligate host plant) interseeding.  Exposing mineral soil stimulated abundant pitch pine recruitment, which had been rarely observed following repeated dormant season fires. Wildlife response has also been significant with dramatic increases in Karner blue butterfly populations and abundant young forest/shrubland birds including American woodcock, prairie warbler, field sparrow, and brown thrasher. Several species of rare obligate pine barrens moths and butterflies have been rediscovered in these sites after nearly 20 years of presumed extirpation.

In the long-term, we anticipate that growing season mow+burn will help restore fire-suppressed pitch pine-scrub oak barrens. We anticipate a 10-year average fire frequency maintenance regime, using a mix of dormant and growing season fire. The new, two-phased prescription may have been just what the doctor ordered for conserving Albany’s globally-rare pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and recovering endangered wildlife, ultimately maintaining a condition worthy of its National Natural Landmark status.

23 Days Post-burn

23 Days Post-burn

42 Days Post-burn

42 Days Post-burn

Field Trip Recap: NAFSE's New Jersey Fire Science and Management Workshop

NAFSE's first three-day capstone workshop was held at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ November 4-6th, 2015. Dr. George Zimmerman, Professor of Environmental Studies at Stockton University, graciously hosted us and Amanda Mahaffey of the NAFSE leadership team and the Forest Stewards Guild, organized the event. November 4th dawned with 50 attendees munching on muffins, ready for a gorgeous day in the field. We hopped in several large vans to observe different field sites on public and private land (see map below).

Our first stop was on the Haines family's Pine Island cranberry farm property where we learned that these high value crops needed exceptionally clean water.  The Haines family has long understood the importance of caring for the forest around their farms for water quality, but they also need to regularly reduce fuels in case of large wildfires near their fields. Brian Kieffer, of Pine Creek Forestry, LLC, (owned by Bob Williams who could not attend as he was receiving an award for communications from the Society of American Foresters), explained the history of the 15 acre site nestled between the cranberries and the road. The site had undergone selective silvicultural thinning, with a 50% reduction in basal area and slash left behind, and had also undergone prescribed burning approximately 4-5 yrs ago. Pine Creek Forestry bases their silvicultural treatments on the Stoddard-Neel approach which aims to increase species diversity, provide habitat, and promote uneven-age stands using selective logging and prescribed fire. 

1st Stop: Pine Island Cranberry farm with Brian Kieffer of Pine Creek Forestry, LLC Photo by Inga La Puma

1st Stop: Pine Island Cranberry farm with Brian Kieffer of Pine Creek Forestry, LLC
Photo by Inga La Puma

The group piled back in the shuttle buses and we all headed to our second stop, also a site treated by Pine Creek Forestry. This site had 30-40% of the basal area removed and chipped on site, was burned 3-4 years ago, and was ready to burn again. There was a cluster of shortleaf pine and the group had a discussion about the historical amount of shortleaf pine in the Pinelands and it's timber value. The site was home to silvery aster and pine barrens gentian. We talked about the southern pine beetle and the main strategy for combating infestations, which is thinning.

Shortleaf pines - Photo by Inga La Puma

Shortleaf pines - Photo by Inga La Puma

Next John Parke, of New Jersey Audubon, told us the story of the cooperative effort between the Haines family, the University of Delaware, and Tall Timbers research station to reintroduce Bobwhite quail to the Pinelands of NJ. They found excellent potential open habitat with rare early successional forage plants and no invasive species on areas that had been under forest management by the Haines family. Some family members remembered seeing bobwhite quail as young children and with the help of NJ Audubon, the partners reached out to the Tall Timbers research station which has a long history of quail conservation in Florida. They found suitable locations in which to release bobwhite quail back into New Jersey on the Haines property and had 14 nests in the first year of release with 66 hatchlings which was deemed a tremendous success.

John Parke of NJ Audubon and Brian Kieffer of Pine Creek Forestry discussing partnership with Tall Timbers and University of DE for restoring bobwhite quail to New Jersey. Photo by Inga La Puma

John Parke of NJ Audubon and Brian Kieffer of Pine Creek Forestry discussing partnership with Tall Timbers and University of DE for restoring bobwhite quail to New Jersey. Photo by Inga La Puma

Our third stop was a bit too much for our shuttle bus drivers involving some sketchy sugar sand patches on the road. Participants were game for walking or riding on NJ Forest Fire Service trucks the last half mile or so to get to our site. (The following photos by Inga La Puma of NAFSE and Wendy Fulks of Fire Adapted Communities).

As we arrived at the Speedwell site, there was a general murmer of ‘ahhh’ ‘ohhh’ and lots of interest as to what was going on at this crossroads.  Tom Gerber of the NJ forest fire service (NJFFS) explained that we were looking at Wharton State Forest on one corner, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Parker preserve on the other and the Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm forested tract across the way. These three patches of land were different in structure, species and density. The Wharton side, Tom explained, had been under a prescribed burning regime rotation every 6-10 years which was evident in the sparse understory of ericaceous shrubs and pitch pine over-story. Tom noted that the NJFFS began their prescribed burning program in 1954, was the first in the US, and has a long history of burning for risk reduction for NJ residents. The goal for the NJFFS is to burn 20-25,000 acres a year on state lands to reduce hazardous fuels. 

Tom Gerber NJFFS and Amanda Mahaffey NAFSE at the Speedwell site. Photo by Inga La Puma

Tom Gerber NJFFS and Amanda Mahaffey NAFSE at the Speedwell site. Photo by Inga La Puma

The Parker Preserve is an area of old cranberry farms and forests that is gradually changing due to succession. The area we were viewing hadn’t burned since approximately 1998-99 and significant undergrowth and ladder fuels were evident. It was evident that unburned areas provided very different kinds of habitat, but also contained an abundance of risk in the event of a wildfire.

Steve Lee, one of the Lee brothers that owns the adjacent tract, explained that his patch of land was harvested in 2001 with a variety of methods including drum chopping, then Arsenal™ was applied to scrub oaks and the area was planted with a pitch pine-loblolly hybrid. Natural regeneration in the understory was evident, as were a few of the larger trees left after harvest. Steve noted that his purpose in managing this forest was to protect his watershed as well as create a new revenue source in the form of timber for his family. He also explained that they plan to try prescribed burns to help prevent further regeneration in the understory.

Steve Lee of Lee Brothers Cranberry and Wendy Fulks of Fire Adapted Communities at Speedwell site. Photo by Amanda Mahaffey

Steve Lee of Lee Brothers Cranberry and Wendy Fulks of Fire Adapted Communities at Speedwell site. Photo by Amanda Mahaffey

Next up was our fourth stop for lunch at Coyle Field, where State Firewarden, Bill Edwards gave us a warm welcome and invited us to check out the equipment that the Forest Fire Service uses to fight wildland fires in New Jersey. We heard from the aviation folks about the ping pong devices they use, saw the amazing array of aircraft at the field, inspected the specialized brush trucks used in firefighting in the Pinelands and saw a flame-thrower on the back of an ATV!

For our fifth stop we headed over to the Cedar Bridge Fire Tower where Dr. Ken Clark of the USDA Forest Service described the breadth of his research on carbon dynamics and the energy balance of prescribed fires. He showed us an area that had last been prescribe burned in 2013. Then he started explaining all of the data that he and his colleagues derived from these types of burns near their carbon flux towers. They described a great amount of turbulence and heat released from fires and monitored the amount of heat required to release the water vapor from the fuels. He described white smoke as containing mostly water vapor and black smoke as mostly particulate matter. With restrictions on carbon from the EPA, the concern is that the EPA will begin to monitor forest management via carbon accounting. His work has shown that carbon exchange is back to previous levels three years after a burn and that 5-8 year old stands will be sequestering carbon above and beyond what the forest was sequestering pre-burn. We also got to take a quick run up to the top of the fire tower and check out the view of the flux tower just above the canopy!

Our last stop of the day was headed up by Bill Zipse of the NJ State Forestry Service in Whiting, NJ. This area is home to numerous retirement communities surrounded by Pinelands forest. Bill worked with the NJFFS on this site where they needed to minimize the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the wildland-urban interface and in essence create a ‘catcher’s mitt’ for advancing fires. Each retirement community has a different homeowners association, therefore communication is extremely important with any treatment or prescribed fire in this area and the NJFFS made a concerted effort to inform citizens of their plans and how it would benefit their communities. The goal was to make it look aesthetically pleasing, but also to discourage new smaller tree establishment in the area which would serve as ladder fuels. Bill used a fire spread model to understand how much removal was needed to reduce hazard in this area before conducting a prescribed burn. Next we did a round robin of attendee’s ‘take home message’ and have a few of the recordings below:

Bill Zipse of the New Jersey Forestry Department at the Whiting site. Photo by Inga La Puma

Bill Zipse of the New Jersey Forestry Department at the Whiting site. Photo by Inga La Puma

On the third day of our workshop (the second day was filled with presentations which I will be posting on another blog post), we walked straight out from the Campus Center to see the project being undertaken by Dr. George Zimmerman and Pine Creek Forestry on the Stockton University campus. This project is aimed at reducing fuels for limiting the risk of southern pine beetle infestations as well as wildfires. Dr. Zimmerman described how the project to manage the forest was accompanied by monitoring experiments involving numerous scientific disciplines and students. There are three meteorological stations, one in an uncut patch, one in a field, and one in a cut patch. The thinning was to reduce the pheromone aggregation of the southern pine beetle. There are different levels of thinning to understand how these methods affect the forest regeneration and mammals. The wildlife class is conducting mammal trapping to understand the uses of these different forest densities by various mammals. 

Dr. George Zimmerman explaining the forest management plan on Stockton University's campus. Photo by Inga La Puma

Dr. George Zimmerman explaining the forest management plan on Stockton University's campus. Photo by Inga La Puma

Next we went with John Sanford of the NJFFS to a site where he assisted Dr. Zimmerman in conducting prescribed burns on the Stockton University Campus. The fire event was described as highly engaging to students and as successful in reducing understory. They have more plans to expand the Stockton University forest management project by using deer exclosures to estimate the impact of deer browsing on native regeneration as well as different methods of tree removal and studying the effects on hydrology in the area.

Finally, we took a quick side-trip to see the Atlantic White Cedar swamp on Stockton’s campus. Gorgeous! 

Atlantic white cedar swamp on Stockton University's campus. Photo by Inga La Puma

Atlantic white cedar swamp on Stockton University's campus. Photo by Inga La Puma

Overall, the field trips before and after our ‘inside day’ were extremely informative and exciting and all of the NAFSE team leaders would like to thank the field trip organizers for all of the hard work and effort that went into hosting each site.

The whole field trip group at Coyle Field, November 4th, 2015

The whole field trip group at Coyle Field, November 4th, 2015

One Fire Day: Tom Gerber - New Jersey Forest Fire Service

This month's story, "The Kings Grant Fire," comes from Tom Gerber, Section Warden for the NJ Division of Forestry, Forest Fire Service. Tom has had a long history fighting fires and managing prescribed fires in NJ and is one of NAFSE's Community Representatives. Here, he relates a memorable fire from 1986.

Tom Gerber on recent November 2015 field trip

Tom Gerber on recent November 2015 field trip

On May 5, 1986, Evesham Twp, Burlington County NJ, NJ Forest Fire Service Section B-1, wardens Tom and Paul Gerber returned to their station in Medford from a small forest fire in the Kings Grant Section of Evesham with Wildland Engines B-1 and B-24. At approximate 5 p.m., the lookout in the Medford Fire Tower reported a huge column of smoke coming from the Golf Course Links at Kings Grant near #5 Crown Royal Parkway.This wildfire was burning in dense Pinelands fuel that had not burned since 1968. To compound the problem, it had been developed with single and multi-family housing units in 1980 at very high densities. This 25-acre wildfire would go on to consume five, 200,000 dollar dwellings and require 15 wildland engines, 2 water tenders, 3 tractor plows, 3 single engine aircraft drop planes, and 50 firefighters from the State Forest Fire Service to control. Structure fire departments from Evesham Fire, along with fire engines from all of southern Burlington and Camden Counties, responded to our call for help. This incident was a modern day wake-up call for wildland-urban interface fire in the NJ Pine Barrens. The 80's era re-awoke awareness of the risks in the wildland-urban interface. There had not been many scares like this since 1963 and 1977, both nationally and in NJ. This Kings Grant fire followed the devastating 1985 Florida fire season, so the Evesham Fire Rescue Chief was able to develop an 8 million dollar fire district with a career staff of 30 uniformed fire fighters as a result of this fire. Chief Lowden also became a voting member of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). 

One Fire Day: Peter Grima - MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

For this installment, Peter Grima gives us an inside look at a burn Dr. Bill Patterson conducted on his birthday back in 2007: "The Birthday Burn". Peter Grima was the very last graduate student that Dr. Patterson took on at UMass, completing his M.S. in Forestry in 2009.  He now works as a Service Forester for the Mass. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation in northern Berkshire County, substituting spruce-fir and rich-mesic forests in place of the pitch pine woods of his graduate years.

Dr. Bill Patterson with drip torch.

Dr. Bill Patterson with drip torch.

The Birthday Burn

On July 2, 2007, there were many things I had not yet experienced.  As I donned my Nomex that morning, I was years away from owning a home, just a month away from becoming a father, and only hours away from taking part in my first full-fledged growing season, woodland burn.  I had lit off my inaugural share of dormant season grassland and scrub oak, but this was the first “in the woods” summer burn in my favorite inland sandplain at the Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area in western Massachusetts, where I could finally ascertain the interplay of litter and shrub fuels, and how one utilizes the “paintbrush” of prescribed fire – the drip torch –to tame the burn and keep things from escalating into the pitch pine canopy.There are three important details to report about that day: 1) The burn boss was Dr. Bill Patterson, understated grandfather of prescribed fire in Massachusetts, and also my graduate advisor; 2) It was Bill’s 62nd birthday; and 3) There was a component of quaking aspen – a “clone” – in the overstory at one end of the burn unit.     This last detail may seem inconsequential, but for anyone who has suffered any measure of time with Bill (and I mean that in the kindest and most respectable way, for “suffer” is a word he himself has used) had probably heard about his epic battles against Populus tremuloides in the wilds of Minnesota’s Lake Itasca State Park during his PhD years, tales of being soaked with 2,4-D (yes, Agent Orange) and of the “millions of stems per acre” that invariably grew back, seemingly out of spite, forging thenceforward a potent and enduring adversarial relationship between Dr. Patterson and all things Populus. The second detail is critical because I distinctly recall a noticeable gleam in Bill’s eye that morning, as if he meant to make that day count more than most, to scoff at mortality and aspen clones and leave his mark indelibly on the landscape through the medium of fire.  His muted fervor was heightened by the addition of the Cape Cod National Seashore outfit (and their engine) to our motley crew of researchers, students, biologists and state workers. In retrospect, the fire behavior that day was more or less typical of a growing season burn in scrub oak fuels.  It was a hot fire with intermittent, semi-explosive torching of live scrub oak foliage, and even some short-lived “crown fires” in scrub oak, which was all new and exciting to me, but hardly the stuff of epic tales.  Even so, I knew this small triangle of woodland would prove to be special, not just because of its role in marking the nativity of our burn boss, but because of a suite of ecological indicators observed in its wake.  In short order, some of the mop-up crew discovered a box turtle that had somehow survived the burn (or at least that’s the version I have stored in my memory…).  And in my own mop-up endeavors, I flushed a whippoorwill, seemingly unfazed by the flames, from the interior of the unit.  Lastly, living just a few miles away, I had volunteered to look for smokes the following morning, and I discovered several families of grouse, fledglings in tow, happily foraging in the black, seemingly thankful for our labors.  All this within half a day of the burn! More notable than these elements of instant gratification have been the insights gained in the intervening years while revisiting my old haunts, following through as a student of fire to learn from the best experts – the fire-adapted species – just how each one has fared in the wake of our meager approximations.  Each time, I am forced to grin as I fondly recall Bill’s wily smirk against a backdrop of flaming scrub oaks, the heat from which was enough to top-kill just about all of the aspens, and the vigorous sprouting of which was enough to overcome the nearly-matched vigor of the aspen suckers.  The aspen clone, at least that small one encompassed within the birthday burn, is now an open-canopied scrub oak glade within a greater oak-pine woodland.  It is a small victory, much delayed, but we can now say that, at least on that day, Bill won.

One Fire Day: Dr. Inga P. La Puma - North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange

For this installment, Dr. Inga La Puma relates her experience in the Spring of 2015 when she participated in her first prescribed fire.

I have always considered myself to be the shining example of 'the problem'. A fire scientist who has never been on a fire, prescribed or otherwise. Then I got the call in March from Dr. Nick Skowronski, U.S. Forest Service. Did I want to come out and help with a research burn? No question! I looked forward to observing not only a prescribed fire in the New Jersey Pinelands where I had done my fire history and modeling research at Rutgers, but to observe one in which numerous scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the USFS, Tomsk State University (in Russia) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) were collecting data on embers, smoke, and weather. This block had been burned two years before with the same equipment, and the videos I had seen were impressive. After modeling fire and forest disturbance for four or five years, I couldn't WAIT to get out in the field again.  
The morning arrived cold and clear, with a slight northwest breeze. Perfect! I met Mike Gallagher, U.S. Forest Service and Dr. Bob Kremens, RIT, at 7 a.m. at Lucille's restaurant in the middle of the Pinelands (mmm pie) and we followed Mike out to the side of the road. The sand roads at the entrance area looked familiar. I was sure I had been close during my field work measuring trees seven years ago - but this is the Pinelands, so it probably just looked the same. I was worried about wearing a coat and if it could fit under the PPE shirt I was given and if I could wear a hat under my helmet. I was glad I brought lined leather work gloves because people were complaining left and right about freezing hands. I was assigned to help Bob put up small smoke towers throughout the burn plot, and off we went.  Nick arrived and set up all the cameras while the ember people from Edinburgh set up their sites to catch embers. Finally the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) wildland firefighters arrived and began to burn out the section next to the research plot. I watched them confidently putting fire on the ground with their drip torches and regular radio communication around the plots. I asked how they knew when the burn was done, and one of the guys said, "When the smoke stops!" Oh...right! Duh. Well, then the section warden chimed in with more detail on how all of the edges may come together and you might see a convective column in the middle of the plot. That was the kind of answer I was looking for!  

Once the side plot was burned out, it was time to burn the research plot, but we had to wait for the plane with the infrared equipment to get close enough to begin. Finally, the plane arrived and Nick told all the researchers to stay put in the safe zone. The crew lit the research plot, and as I watched the fire burn with interest, the researchers and fire crew seemed unimpressed. It was a slow crawling ground fire that even seemed to skip some areas. I believe many of the crew were disappointed that the fire didn't burn as hot as it had last time, but Nick pointed out that we were proving that prescribed fire works, and that the earlier burn had done its job by knocking down fuels.  

Nick gave the OK for me to walk with Dr. Ken Clark, U.S. Forest Service, down the side of the burn and as small as it was, I still felt the heat to the point where I wanted to step back. I got a face-full of smoke that for some reason was unexpected to me as a novice, although afterwards I was laughing at myself for it!  I finished out the day helping Ken by clipping shrub plots outside the burn and checking out his main weather tower. We walked back to check out the burn and noted small areas that looked unburned within the plot as well as an absence of personnel. We finally found everyone on the side of the sand road that divided the plot talking about how things had gone that day. I spoke with Tom Gerber, NJFFS, about coming out to help and observe more fires. Did I want to do this more often? Heck, yes! I came home totally energized from a gorgeous day outside amongst the trees and fire. I was amazed at how the knowledge of generations of fire managers in the NJFFS and the fire scientists from across the Atlantic could be combined to pull off a research-based prescribed fire, where everyone could learn, including me! I am not sure how often I can get out there - and fires don't seem to care much about my kids’ dance and piano class schedules, but still, I sincerely hope that my first fire was the beginning of many in the years to come.

Focused Conference Calls: Fire in New England Oak Ecosystems

In April 2015 we hosted a focused conference call to investigate the current research questions on this topic. Here we've posted the summary of that call. The conversation on this subject shall continue with research briefs, webinars, and an oak/fire capstone workshop organized by NAFSE in New England in June 2016.

Managers in northern New England want to learn about the fire ecology of oak-dominated ecosystems and the implications for land management decisions. The purpose of this call was to catalyze conversation between managers and researchers to analyze current issues and information, to understand how that information is being used, and outline what questions still remain. The call focused on a site in the Green Mountain National Forest called the Dome as an example of an area with a known fire history in an oak-dominated forest, but where a transition towards maple forest is evident.

Many managers want to identify areas appropriate for fire reintroduction and understand the research behind current fire management practices in oak-dominated systems. Research on fire in oak forests in New England is limited; however, some research from other regions may be applicable here as well.

This discussion focused on the current range and optimal conditions for oak forests. Oak sites in New England are typically located on thin soils where competition is limited and where fire may have been present in the past. Sunlight and aspect (south and mostly west in this case) may have influenced oak persistence on the Dome site. It was noted that an area of oak with repeated hot burning after the clearing in the 1800’s returned as hickory in a more southern site. Burning once every 3-5 years promotes hickory and causes oak mortality. Oak and hickory both grow after disturbance, but oak tends to grow faster and hickory ends up in the understory. An area near the Vermont site was subject to a recent burn and has returned as a beech forest.

The Dome site in Vermont is close to northern end of chestnut oak range, and there are sassafras and red pine in the site. Through an extensive oak inventory, it was found that red oak patches are found as far north as Ontario. A question that remains is: what if rare understory species don’t need fire? Maybe oak is self-perpetuating and fire is not needed on those sites. Or perhaps the understory may have been grasses and eliminated by shrub cover now due to lack of fire. Native Americans were known for burning their berry patches and ericaceous shrubs. A map from the mid-1800’s does show the area as forested.

More questions arose that need further research to be answered. Is it all soil and aspect that is producing these oak forests? Are we going to make the site more or less resilient to climate change if we utilize fire management? How do we characterize tipping points of maintenance? An adaptive management approach was suggested, with controls within ecologically sensitive areas. The group expressed that the only way to understand the variation of responses is to burn and document. Doing nothing was actually stressed as an active form of management. Some participants noted that in going forward, there should be an effort to promote diversity with the understanding that fire is not the only disturbance. There is a reluctance to try fire when we don’t know enough about the outcomes.