30,000 acres burned so far in prescribed fire in South Florida

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Park are conducting a cross-boundary prescribed fire this week in South Florida. So far they have completed 30,000 acres. Everglades is continuing ignitions today and tomorrow, April 4 and 5, 2019.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

The south Florida National Parks often ignite prescribed fires with a helicopter-mounted device that drops plastic spheres which ignite after hitting the ground. It’s called a Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD. Much of what the parks burn is vegetation over standing water. If the sphere lands in water it may not ignite the vegetation, but every sphere does not have to be successful.

The burn pattern in the photo below illustrates the paths of several helicopter flight lines. The direction of spread is being determined by a wind blowing from left to right.

prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks
Cross-boundary prescribed fire in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. NPS photo.

When the PSD was first developed several decades ago it was called an
Aerial Ignition Device, or AID. When acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, became a serious health issue, firefighters dropped the AID label and renamed it Plastic Sphere Dispenser, or PSD.

New Jersey Forest Fire Service enters their 84th year of improving forests with prescribed fire

prescribed burn US Air Force’s Warren Grove Bombing Range
A prescribed burn at the U.S. Air Force’s Warren Grove Bombing Range in Ocean County, NJ. Photo: Trevor Raynor

Michael Achey and Marie Cook of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) wrote this article about their prescribed fire program, which is entering its 84th year in the state.

The NJFFS is the agency responsible for protecting life, property, and New Jersey’s natural resources from wildfire. One of the ways we accomplish our mission is by an aggressive hazardous fuel mitigation program, specifically using prescribed fire.

History and Purpose of Prescribed Fire in New Jersey
NJFFS has been using prescribed fire on state lands since 1936, primarily to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations. Other beneficial effects of these treatments include providing high quality wildlife habitat and resilience in forest health. While reducing the threat to public safety posed by hazardous fuels is always the primary mission, this year’s signing of the New Jersey Prescribed Burning Act has given fire management officers additional latitude for using prescribed fire as a tool to achieve several other ecological objectives. While prescribed burning takes place statewide across all ownerships, much of the activity is concentrated on state lands in fire-adapted Pine Barrens communities.

The state has proposed over 30,000 acres to be treated by prescribed burning this season, a seemingly ambitious goal having come off one of the wettest years current fire managers have ever experienced through the course of their careers. Prior to treatment, all proposed prescribed burn units are approved through a Departmental review process that considers natural resource, historical and ecological concerns, after which burn plans are prepared by local fire managers for each unit. At the time this article was written, towards the culmination of NJ’s prescribed burn season, approximately 15,000 acres of public and private land had been treated.

prescribed fire New Jersey
Students from the 2019 Prescribed Fire Exchange work on prescribed burns in New Jersey’s Pinelands region. Photo: Michael Achey
prescribed fire New Jersey
Students from the 2019 Prescribed Fire Exchange work on prescribed burns in New Jersey’s Pinelands region. Photo: Michael Achey

Education and Outreach
The 2019 burn season marks the second formalized annual Prescribed Fire Exchange, a program created to provide opportunities for students and practitioners outside NJFFS for training and exposure to prescribed fire techniques utilized in New Jersey. Students from Northern Arizona University, University of Idaho, and Utah State University have received training so far, as well as professional staff from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, New York’s Central Pine Barrens Commission, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources. NJFFS is extremely proud of this budding program which continues to receive praise from past and current participants. While our roots hold firm to tradition, we are continually seeking ways to improve our programs and expand the scope of their benefits. Anyone interested in participating in future exchanges should contact NJFFS state headquarters located in Trenton, NJ.

Beginning in 1926, the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station’s program in the NJ Pinelands has served as a regional hotspot for research of fire and forest management practices.  Over time, the development of a landscape-scale approach of creating a mosaic with prescribed fire each year has resulted in fuel hazard reduction and promotion of forest health and regeneration.

Today, this program capitalizes on the constantly emerging breadth of new knowledge and technology including satellites and laser-based sensors, to drive research on aspects of fire that were once impossible to study.  With topics such as fire spread through ember showers, fire effects, physics-based modeling of fire spread, and technological approaches to assessing hazardous fuels at the wildland-urban interface, this research contributes to the evolution of universally applicable fire science knowledge. Most importantly, the work strives to meet a balance of risk and ecosystem service needs with growing populations and changing forest and climate conditions.

prescribed fire stats New Jersey
2019 NJ Prescribed Burning Statistics as of March 21, 2019; “Other” denotes government land not in state ownership.

Additional information about the Silas Little Experimental Forest and the New Jersey Forest Fire Service and their prescribed burning program.

Are stand replacement fires “bad”?

Cranston Fire
Cranston Fire, July, 2018. InciWeb photo.

The video below, paid for by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, advocates active management of forests as one of the methods of preventing catastrophic wildfires. Most land managers and members of the public will agree with that very general statement, with exceptions for certain parks and wilderness areas.

The video defines active management as thinning to reduce fuels,  prescribed fires, and “managing natural fires when they start”. It begins with Doug Grafe, Fire Protection Chief of the Oregon Department of Forestry stating,”It’s the public perception that catastrophic stand replacement fires are bad. And they are.”

The interviewer enthusiastically said, “Yes they are”.

Chief Grafe continued, “And they’re not natural.”

At the end of the video the narrator says “fire is complex”.

Agreed. It is too complex to throughly explain in a 96-second film which is apparently intended to shape public opinion about how to manage forests.

Not all stand replacement fires, in which most or all overstory trees are killed, are catastrophic, unnatural, or bad. Fires in lodgepole pine, for example, are either creeping and slow moving or rapidly spreading, intense, stand replacing crown fires occurring at 50 to 300-year intervals.

In addition to prescribed fire, thinning, and fuel management, “active forest management” in recent years has been a dog whistle for increasing logging, used by lobbyists and others that make their living from the timber industry. The president used the term along with “health treatments” in a Presidential Order signed on the Friday before Christmas in which he directed a 37 percent increase in timber harvesting.

The moral of this story is, active forest management in most landscapes has many benefits, but beware of how it is defined.

Fire “is like giving the forest a bath”

Whaley Prescribed Fire Black Hills of South Dakota
The Whaley Prescribed Fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota, January 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

In this video, Matt Jolly, an ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, talks about the natural and important role of fire in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. He explains that fire “is like giving the forest a bath”.

Prescribed burning in Western Australia

Their Rx season is usually from early spring to early summer.

prescribed burning in Western Australia
Smoke from a prescribed fire in the Warren Region of Western Australia. Screenshot from the Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Service video.

The prescribed burning season in the Warren Region of Western Australia usually winds down this time of the year during the early summer months. Their wildfire season typically extends from October to May.

The official designations of the seasons south of the equator in Australia are laid out like this:

  • Summer: December – February
  • Autumn: March – May
  • Winter: June – August
  • Spring: September – November
Map Warren Region Western Australia
Map: Warren Region of Western Australia. Click to enlarge.

In addition to telling us about the prescribed burning video (below), Dr. Lachlan McCaw, Senior Principal Research Scientist with Western Australia’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, sent us an overview of of their prescribed burning program in the Warren Region:

The Region is situated in the southwest part of Western Australian and features extensive areas of native vegetation, including designated wilderness areas and the state’s tallest forests. The region is also home to iconic tourism destinations, a rich and diverse agricultural industry, and unique conservation values associated with the highest rainfall area of Western Australia.

Public lands within the region are managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Parks and Wildlife Service and include 0.65 million hectares (1.60 million acres) of national parks and nature reserves, 0.25 million hectares (0.617 million acres) of state forest and timber reserves, and a lesser area of unallocated crown land and unmanaged reserves.

Southwest Western Australia has a Mediterranean type climate with warm dry summers and the fire season typically extends from October to May. Open forests and heathlands become dry enough to burn in early spring whereas tall dense forest types may retain moisture into the early months of the austral summer.

Prescribed fire is an important tool for land management in southwest Western Australia and in the Warren Region the annual burning program undertaken by the Parks and Wildlife Service may vary from 30,000 ha (74,000 a.) to 70,000 ha (172,000 a.). Prescribed burning is undertaken for a number of purposes including:

  • To mitigate the risk and severity of bushfires and assist in the protection of lives, property and infrastructure by reducing the build up of vegetation fuels;
  • To maintain biodiversity and habitat diversity;
  • To reestablish vegetation after timber harvesting and disturbance by mining operations;
  • To understand the behaviour of fire and its interactions with the environment.