Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey, 2018-2019

Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program is a program run by Headwaters Economics that brings together planners, scientists, and wildfire experts to “work with local municipalities to reduce wildfire risk through improved land use planning”. CPAW came to New Jersey after Ocean Township applied to the program via their Office of Emergency Management liaison, Bill Edwards, a former chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

Professionals from Headwaters Economics, Wildfire Planning International - Molly Mowery, Wildland Professional Solutions -Kelly Johnston, and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station - Eva Karau, provided analysis and assistance to Ocean Township officials for an entire year at no cost to the township. The New Jersey State Forest Fire and Forest Services were also involved, as well as local emergency management, planning, administrative and police personnel.

The CPAW program conducted field visits Ocean Township several times throughout the year and held numerous calls with local experts to assess wildfire risk and understand local zoning and planning ordinances in relation to wildfire. Throughout the process CPAW incorporated comments from the New Jersey stakeholders to assess wildfire hazard and wildland urban interface risk. Any potential changes to the township Master Plan and Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as well as the county Hazard Mitigation Plan were vetted with local authorities and inconsistencies addressed.

The first step was to create an updated wildfire hazard map for the area. Spatial modeling of burn probability and flame length was performed by Eva Karau of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (see maps below). As part of the vetting process, stakeholders found that the fuel models in the pinelands were predominantly of the shrub fuel category. This shrub fuel model was originally assigned in the LANDFIRE fuels map to capture the rate of spread that is typical of the ecosystem. However, this resulted in absolutely no canopy fire in the initial wildfire hazard results; therefore, Eva had to adjust the shrub fuel type input parameters in order to incorporate the important aspect of canopy height. This adjustment resulted in a more accurate map of canopy fire probabilities and flame heights as well as wildfire hazard across the region.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

At the end of the process, officials in Ocean Township received a detailed document that lays out a clear path on how to address zoning regulations and tie all of the planning documents together into a cohesive unit that addresses wildfire in a unified and consistent way. The basis for prioritizing the recommendations is the wildfire hazard map. State officials now have a better understanding of how all of the zoning and regulations work together between the different regulatory agencies and spatial areas as well as a great example for how to look at wildfire hazard and risk across the state.

The CPAW program is open to any local municipality (town, city or county) with planning authority and applications are held on a yearly basis.

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications
Written by Amanda Mahaffey, Photos by Amanda Mahaffey

(Don’t miss the videos of the tour and wind tunnel experiment linked on our event page!)

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On a fair September afternoon, NAFSE held its first-ever indoor field trip. We were hosted by Dr. Albert Simeoni and numerous colleagues and graduate students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute fire lab for a full afternoon of lab-based fire experiments that lead to wildland fire applications. A great group of scientists and fire managers participated and interacted with each other over lunch and throughout the tour.

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To set the stage, Dr. Simeoni outlined the long history of fire research at WPI, which houses the one of the oldest collections of fire protection research in the country. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has strived to educate aspiring professional engineers and scientists through hands-on practice and applied instruction. Today, Dr. Simeoni's work is part of the Strategic Environmental Research and Developmen Program (SERDP) in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service and several universities. NAFSE's webinar series, "Fine Scale, Big Scale: Wildland Fire Dynamics Research for Informed Management," highlights the work of these project collaborators who seek to understand, quantify, and predict wildland fire behavior based on multiple scales of research.

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The NAFSE field trip to WPI highlighted the laboratory-scale experiments and their application to real-life wildland fire conundrums. How fast does fire burn through different fine fuel types? What if the wind is blowing? How can we predict fire behavior in pitch pine-scrub oak forest ecosystems under different conditions? How are fuel cans and chainsaws designed for safe transportation and use by wildland firefighters? What happens when fuels burn on open water?

During this field trip, the group visited the Combustions Lab, observed a sample run in the fire propagation apparatus, and watched fire spread in the wind tunnel. Thanks to the background talks, these seemingly simple experiments took on new meaning. The field trip participants gained a new appreciation for the challenges - and successes - in quantifying fire behavior. Throughout the afternoon, the focus was not only on the technical details of the experiments themselves, but how they will be translated to wildland fire situations. Some of these experiments are still in their early stages, but the SERDP team and WPI researchers hope to have applicable answers to some of these questions in the next few years. In the meantime, the fire manager community will help keep the research real by continually raising new and important questions for these fire protection engineers.

Checking out the portable wind tunnel.

Checking out the portable wind tunnel.

See our event page for videos of each speaker on the field trip!

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 http://www.northeastwildfire.org/1947-fire.

The field trip crew!

The field trip crew!

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

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1En8B7rMv14xl5b5rK3dCE1j4l2Q

Field trip handout, by Jake McCumber, Camp Edwards

https://app.asana.com/app/asana/-/download_asset?asset_id=242512466966233

Field trip photos, by Northeast Forest & Fire Management

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/Trainings/2017-NAFSE-Camp-Edwards-Field-  

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

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/Wildfires/Camp-Edwards-Wildfire-072316

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

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/2016-Burns/MAARNG-RxBurn-101916  

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

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/2016-Burns/MAARNG-RxBurn-110216  

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

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/2016-Burns/Camp-Edwards-Rx-Burn-041416  

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

http://ne-ffm.smugmug.com/Public-Folders/2016-Burns/MAARNG-Rx-Burn-051916

 

 

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

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