The USDA Forest Service is planning a prescribed burn in June or July on about 42 acres of national forest land on the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. The one-day prescribed burn is part of a long-term research study led by scientists at Bent Creek Experimental Forest, part of the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station. The study will help agency scientists understand how the timing of prescribed burning affects hardwood regeneration — primarily for oaks — along with herbaceous vegetation, fuel loading and breeding bird communities.
The areas to be burned include three forest compartments near the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, adjacent to Forest Service Roads 479 and 664.
Planned and supervised by the National Forests in North Carolina, the prescribed burn hasn’t been set for a particular date, but will take place when environmental conditions permit, according to an agency checklist for weather and other environmental conditions. Wind and humidity are key factors in fire behavior, safety and smoke control.
Safety of firefighters and the public is the number one priority in timing and carrying out the burn. Several roads and trails adjacent to the burn are expected to be closed on the day of the burn, or a day or two longer if hotspots persist. The public is asked to heed signs posted on roads and trailheads and stay away from burn sites and closed roads and trails.
The Forest Service is required to meet state air quality requirements and will conduct smoke modeling to reduce the possible effects of smoke emissions. Adequate personnel and equipment will be on site, and the Forest Service says it expects the operation will be completed in a single day, so barring the unforseeable, road closures are expected for just one day.
Fire is an ecological factor affecting forests everywhere, and prescribed fire is one of many tools used by forest managers to achieve desired future conditions in managed forests; yet its long-term effects have not been well studied in the moist growing conditions of the Appalachian mountains, especially during the growing season.
In the images above and below, SRS research forester Henry McNab holds a handful of tulip poplar seeds — a deciduous tree that grows fast and competes with oak trees for light and space in area forests. They’re part of the “seed bank” harbored in the leaf litter on the forest floor — seeds waiting for a chance to sprout, grow, and get their branches spreading into the sun of the forest canopy — and thus they’re one of the forces oaks (and forest managers) must overcome if they are to persist here for the long term.
Established in 1925, the Bent Creek Experimental Forest is the oldest research forest in the South, offering scientists the opportunity to examine the long-term effects of their efforts to improve timber production while maintaining soil and water quality, along with ecosystem sustainability. For more information about this burn and prescribed burning in general, check out our upcoming story (in print June 8), or one of several pages about prescribed fire at the Southern Forest Research Station website.
Photos by Jonathan Welch