Interview: Tom Gerber of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service Travels to Tall Timbers for the Prescribed Fire Consortium Week

In mid-April, Tom Gerber was invited by NAFSE to travel to Tall Timbers Research Station located in Tallahassee, Florida as an ambassador for NAFSE representing fire managers in the Northeast during the Prescribed Fire Consortium annual week of fireline experimentation on the property. Although Tom is a community representative for NAFSE representing the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, he travelled to Tall Timbers Prescribed Fire Consortium meeting/field work week as a New Jersey cranberry farmer and land manager as well. These perspectives were important in the mix of folks who participated in observing and conducting the work throughout the week.  Tom answered a few questions after being down at Tall Timbers to observe the research, collaborations, public interactions, and ecosystem challenges presented by long-leaf pine prescribed fire.

 Tom Gerber, NAFSE Community Representative, at right, on a research burn in New Jersey's pinelands. Photo by Nick Skowronski.

Tom Gerber, NAFSE Community Representative, at right, on a research burn in New Jersey's pinelands. Photo by Nick Skowronski.

What was it like to finally visit the Tall Timbers Research Station, a stronghold of prescribed fire research and history?
It was interesting to see the similarities with New Jersey with the long history of prescribed fire in the region, fire is everything there! It is essentially the other side of the greater pine ecosystem with NJ being towards the northern end. People were super, the old plantation farm house was beautiful. Tallahassee is 25 minutes from Tall Timbers and they have limited growth and development in the area, similar to the Pinelands Management Area.

What is the goal of the Prescribed Fire Consortium research group you were visiting there?
This group of scientists got together to fill in the gaps in prescribed fire science. Most wildland fire science is concerned with wildfires, rather than prescribed fires. This group is looking at modeling tools that work for prescribed fires as well as the unique fire effects we get from prescribed fires.

 Consortium group observe area after a burn. Photo by Brian Wiebler

Consortium group observe area after a burn. Photo by Brian Wiebler

What was your primary goal for visiting during this week?
I wanted to see what was going on down there and see if NJ and the North Atlantic region could do similar things. I was going as a representative of fire managers in the Northeast, so I wanted to compare what we do and see the significance of annual burning that is common there.

What was your favorite moment of the trip?
My favorite moment was meeting Paul, an old timer land manager on the tree plantation who studied under Neal as a teen (from the Stoddard-Neal method of ecological forestry). He had good local knowledge. 

Who did you most identify with and why?
I most identified with Wayne Taylor, a land manager at Tall Timbers. He overseas 100,000 acres of forest and is the landscape fire team coordinator. He deals with smoke management, and different management goals for different blocks. They have a lot of equipment and spend almost $20,000 a year on fuel to conduct prescribed fires.

What was something brand new that you learned? 
Most things I learned re-affirmed the institutional knowledge we have in NJ at the upper range of the pines. I learned that the longleaf needles have double the flame length of our pitch pine needles.

What is your biggest take home message or advice for managers in the Northeast based on your experience in Tall Timbers? 
My biggest take home is that we need to keep promoting and educating the public on the importance of prescribed fire in the North Atlantic region.

Thank you Mike Gallagher and Nick Skowronski for helping with this interview.