• Amanda Mahaffey

Restoring Fire-Adapted Oak-Pine Communities at The Dome, Green Mountain National Forest

Updated: Nov 17

By Amanda Mahaffey, Forest Stewards Guild, amanda@forestguild.org

Discussing fire science at the top of The Dome, Green Mountain National Forest. Photo by Lauren Howard.


 

Watch the 37-min video of The Dome's StoryMap here

Watch the 100-min video of the webinar here (including the StoryMap video linked above)


Webinar resources provided by presenters:

- The demise of fire and "mesophication" of forests in the eastern United States

- Indian Fires in the Prehistory of New England

- Bog-trotting for orchids, Grace Greylock Niles

- Conservation implications of limited Native American impacts in pre-contact New England

- Is climate an important driver of post‐European vegetation change in the Eastern United States?

- The current status of red spruce in the eastern United States: distribution, population trends, and environmental drivers

- Isotria medeoloides, small whorled pogonia and Isotria verticillata, large whorled pogonia

- Restoring Perennial Warm‐Season Grasses as a Means of Reversing Mesophication of Oak Woodlands in Northern Mississippi

- The joint effects of fire and herbivory on hardwood regeneration in central Texas woodlands

- Fire Frequency Affects Structure and Composition of Xeric Forests of Eastern Oklahoma

- Restoring Fire-Adapted Forests in Eastern North America for Biodiversity Conservation and Hazardous Fuels Reduction

- Historical Fire Regimes in Red Pine Forests of the Adirondack Mountains, New York, USA

- Fire in Eastern Oak Forests — A Primer

- Restore or maintain fire in fire-adapted ecosystems

 

Lindsay Rae Silvia, Jeff Tilley, Suzanne Gifford, and their colleagues at the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) put together a stellar 2-h webinar about The Dome, a unique mountaintop oak forest in southern Vermont. It’s even harder to get fire on the GMNF than it is to practice silviculture, but they’ve succeeded in doing both. To help ensure they’re meeting their management objectives, they’ve engaged with a number of partners from agencies and organizations in Vermont and elsewhere to develop and implement ecological and burn monitoring protocols. All of this work was explored thoroughly during the webinar and field tour that took place October 12 and 14, 2022.


Webinar: October 12 2022, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM​

To develop an effective webinar format, NAFSE (led by Maddie Eberly at the Forest Stewards Guild) helped Lindsay create a StoryMap in ArcGIS that tells the recent history of The Dome. Then Lindsay worked with her team (included Randy Swaty and Ryan Rebozo) to record a really well-done video walking through that StoryMap. The speakers changed every few minutes, keeping the pace and delivery engaging, and the subject matter unfolded logically and smoothly from one topic into the next.


The webinar provided an overview of the landscape context of the Dome, followed by an introduction to LANDFIRE and how these data are used in management decisions. The speakers took turns describing silvicultural activities, prescribed fire, fire effects, and a rich variety of monitoring practices employed to ensure the land managers are meeting their objectives. It was clear from the diversity of speakers that it takes partnership and collaboration across divisions and agencies to make all of this important work happen.


To share this information in the webinar itself, which was slated for two hours, webinar facilitator Amanda Mahaffey (me!) guided participants through watching the StoryMap video in segments, then having discussion and open Q&A about each segment before continuing. Close to 80 people attended the webinar, most of whom stuck out the whole 2 hours (we did take a brief break halfway through). Thanks to Virginia Schutte’s behind-the-scenes facilitation and organization, the webinar ran smoothly. This format allowed for meaningful and extended audience engagement through a balance of verbal questions and chat-based discussion. We received feedback from participants that this was one of the best webinars they’ve Zoomed into, and that the format was really effective. In person on the field trip, several folks told me how much they appreciated the engaging format and my ability to pull great questions and comments from the chat while keeping us on pace. It felt good to hear this feedback, because this format was an experiment!


Facilitated and spontaneous discussion spurred by the field trip.


Field trip: October 14 2022, 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM​

The field trip was awesome. We had a great group of 30 folks, some of whom were new to the NAFSE community and fire in oak forests. It was a struggle for the planners to choose attendees from the long wait-list, but it was worth the effort to keep the group size manageable. We had good weather; the rain the previous night gave way to fog and later to sunny skies, so the hiking wasn’t too treacherous. The trail (which is also a firebreak) was wide enough for people to walk and talk side-by-side, which made for great conversations. We all did a short round of introductions at the trailhead. Then I did a quick safety briefing and identified people with medical training in case of an incident. Some of the GMNF fire crew had radios, which facilitated communications as the group spread out.


We took a leisurely break on the control side of a burn plot before continuing together into the burn unit to view the monitoring setup. The trail also afforded an excellent before-and-after snapshot with unburned on the east side and burned on the west side. The lower elevations had been burned once and while higher up, we could see the effects of the 2019 and 2022 burns.



Sassafras, looking great in the fog.


At each pause, I encouraged conversation, then called on a speaker to share something cool about what we were seeing. People learned a lot from each other! I heard an amazing diversity of discussion topics, all about fire:

  • We learned a lot about the ecological evolution of this land, thanks to Tim Simmons, Jeff Tilley, and others who helped piece together what this landscape looked like over the past couple hundred years, why it looks the way it does today, and why that information is important for helping inform decisions about its future course.

  • There was a fun spontaneous fire history discussion when I caught Chris Guiterman and Lauren Howard talking at the back of the circle and asked them to share (because I knew it was something cool). Tim Simmons, Kerry Woods, Bill Patterson, and others chimed in with relevant and interesting fire history wisdom.

  • We talked about climate change, drought, fire, oak, and interactions with other species.

  • We appreciated 2nd order fire effects, namely, rare plant responses as well as beech dieback. We did not see Isotria, but we did see a lot of sassafras.

  • In our final pause on the hike down, I asked the fire managers to share a bit about fireline operations.


People were thrilled to be together in the woods and connect with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. The nature of the hike was perfect for this kind of interaction.



People and connections were really the highlight of this field trip.