Fire in the Pines
Fire Gives Life to the Pine Barrens
Fire, like water, is an essential component of Pine Barrens ecology. Fire adds nutrients into the soil and creates open habitat essential for many species. For those of us who live within the Pines, we recognize that wildfire can be a risk from time to time and accept that some measures be taken to minimize the chance of damage to housing and infrastructure. The compromise that we have collectively made is to conduct controlled burns that fulfill some of the ecological function of fire and simultaneously reduce the risk of a large forest fire that could potentially cause property damage. This is a more natural approach than clearing trees and opening the forest to damaging off-road vehicle activity.
Fire, like water, is an essential component of Pine Barrens ecology.
Fire adds nutrients to the soil and creates habitat essential for many species.
The well-drained sandy soils and flammable resins found in many Pineland trees and shrubs make for a very fire prone environment. The ecosystem has evolved with these conditions to become fire dependent, meaning fires are needed to maintain characteristic pine barren habitats. Since the location, intensity, and frequency in which fires occur over a landscape differs, there is continually a “mosaic” of habitats in different successional stages. Certain areas burn hotter or more frequently than others which influence how much open habitat is created and how much time is allowed for succession between disturbance events. In addition to the creation of more open habitat, forest fires trigger the activation of seed banks, seed release, and input nutrients into the soil. Using prescribed burns as a management technique allows for a reduction in forest fuels while retaining some of the ecological roles of wildfire. Unlike certain forestry techniques such as logging, prescribed burns allow plant material to be maintained on site allowing for its natural breakdown into soil nutrients, use as suitable habitat for native species and limiting access into forested areas for unintended human disturbances such as off-road vehicle activity.
Support Legislation for a Healthy Forest
In order to do more prescribed burning and reduce the risk of wildfire, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection needs to support pending legislation to create a certified burn manager program and adopt a Motorized Access Plan (MAP). The pending legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Dancer and Senator Beach would allow for more prescribed burning by certified burn managers on private land holdings. The recently rejected Wharton MAP would have kept firefighters safe and would have assisted in the preservation of forest roadways and infrastructure. The Fire Service needs this infrastructure to be intact in order to reach remote areas when a fire is beginning to spread. Intentional and unintentional damage to the forest roadways has been increasing in recent years as 4×4 driving, “wheeling”, and “mudding” have gained in popularity. This has not only caused great environmental damage, but also great infrastructure damage and that has compromised the ability of the Forest Fire Service to fulfill their duty. See the Press of Atlantic City article from 2015 for more information on how the FFS is impacted by damage from ORVS.
As a resident of the Pines, the issue of safe roads for Fire Fighters is one that I find very important. They depend on the infrastructure to get into areas, but even more importantly to get out of these areas if danger levels rise. If they can’t leave an area quickly and efficiently, it becomes a serious issue to their safety and this is a problem they have already experienced in Wharton State Forest.
We need to support our Forest Fire Service and give them the funding, capacity, equipment, and infrastructure that keep them safe and fulfill their charge. When they speak up on an issue, we should listen. Road Designations are an issue that the FFS has worked hard to plan for. We have a top of the line service in New Jersey, and they deserve to be kept safe when they are in the field. Do them a service, protect our communities, and support road designations and prescribed burning legislation in New Jersey.
The Pinelands Commission has some suggestions for wildfire preparedness on their website.
To learn more about the prescribed burning legislation visit PPA’s website.