A brochure on "Restoration of Fire to Long-Unburned Longleaf Pine Forests" is now available from the Longleaf Alliance, and it warns land managers to use caution in reintroducing fire into areas that have not burned in years to avoid damaging mature trees.
"One legacy of decades of fire suppression is that many of the remnant mature longleaf pine stands that exist are unhealthy and at risk of catastrophic fire," said Johnny Stowe, past chairman of the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council and forester and wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "Most natural resource professionals recognize the necessity of using fire to restore degraded longleaf forests, but what is not as well recognized is the threat of catastrophic mortality to these longleaf stands caused by inappropriate reapplication of fire."
To receive a copy of the brochure on restoring fire to long-unburned longleaf pine forests, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The mission of the Longleaf Alliance, based at Auburn University, is to promote the economic, ecological and social values of longleaf pine ecosystems and to restore functioning ecosystems as a significant component of the Southeastern United States’ forest landscape across its natural range.
"Land managers often contact the Longleaf Alliance alarmed that 'beetles' or a 'fungus' are killing their old longleaf pine forests that they are trying to restore," said John McGuire, Longleaf Alliance outreach coordinator. "In nearly every case, this problem can be traced back to inappropriate restoration of fire to these areas."
According to Stowe, it’s important for land managers to remember that longleaf forests are fire dependent, but not fire proof. The focus of the first several burns in fire reintroduction, instead of attempting to control hardwoods, should be fuel reduction, particularly the gradual reduction of duff around the base of the older trees. Often in areas that have long gone unburned, this mound of duff is several inches deep and contains many of the tree’s fine roots. Duff that is dry enough to allow fires to smolder for hours will result in longleaf pine trees that may die over a period of one to two years, even if no needles are scorched.
"The first step in restoration of degraded longleaf pine stands must be the recognition that fire set under the wrong conditions will put these forests at risk," Stowe said.
The prescription for successful reintroduction of fire to longleaf pine forests, according to the brochure, is 1) Recognize the problem; 2) Use conservative prescriptions; 3) Reduce fuels gradually; 4) Burn when duff is saturated; 5) Avoid the use of backing fire; 6) Minimize crown scorch; 7) Mop up smoldering duff; and 8) Seek professional advice.
"These are extremely wise and prudent guidelines for restoring fire into not only long-unburned longleaf forests, but also long-unburned loblolly and slash pine forests as well," said Bob Franklin, Clemson Extension wildlife and forestry specialist.
DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.