For decades, the prevailing narrative around fire has been one of destruction and devastation. Adam Warwick, stewardship manager for the Nature Conservancy of North Carolina’s Southern Blue Ridge chapter, is working to break that misconception by bringing controlled burns back to the region in partnership with the Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network.
Fire is an important, natural element of the forest’s ecosystem, Warwick explains. In response to the growing logging industry of the early 1900s, the U.S. Forest Service sponsored national fire suppression and prevention campaigns. “They waged war against fire and demonized it,” he says. “It may have saved lives, but now we’re dealing with the consequences.”
Without frequent low-intensity fires, the forest floor becomes overly dense, choking out species that need sunlight and space to grow. Many plants and pollinators struggle to survive, leaving biodiversity hanging in the balance.
But burning in the populous, hilly terrain of Western North Carolina brings its own set of challenges, Warwick says. In February, he published a new book, The Fire Manager’s Guide to Blue Ridge Ecozones, to serve as a resource for forest managers, private landowners and anyone interested in learning more about forest restoration.
“Fire is good. It’s a natural part of the region’s ecosystem,” he notes. “We often think of forests as their own entities, but we don’t think of the many natural processes that affect them. We’re trying to get people to see fire as a force for good like we do.”