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  • Amanda Mahaffey

Field Trip Recap – Fire management at Camp Edwards: Lessons, challenges, and future objectives

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

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

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

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


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