Prescribed Fire Information

Prescribed Fire Information

Nantahala National Forest – Future Prescribed Burns

The area being considered for the 2013 prescribed burn would include 4,927 acres of National Forest and private land of which 814 acres or 13% of Panthertown Valley would be effected. The U.S. Forest Service proposed action in Panthertown includes burning 485 acres around Blackrock Mountain and 329 acres acres around Little Green Mountain.

The U.S. Forest Service has stated in their scoping notice this burn would be designed to restore table mountain pine in the forest. Friends of Panthertown Board member and resident biologist and botanist Dr. Dan Pittillo has published his comments with regard to this proposal.

This information is a follow-up to our public meeting held on Thursday, September 20 in Cashiers. Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, and Friends of Panthertown were on-hand to answer questions and provide background information about a scoping proposal presented by U.S. Forest Service.

Prescribed burning in Panthertown is a complex issue because of the unique and rare species contained in the valley. Many of our members have expressed concerns related to a proposed action by the U.S. Forest Service. Our official statement will be released on Monday, October 1. Comments from our members will be accepted until October 6 by Nantahala District Ranger Michael Wilkins.

Dr. Dan Pittillo, Botanist and Biologist, has published his comments which you may want to read for some additional background.

You may also view these previous posts which contain detailed information:

Public Meeting to Discuss Proposed Panthertown Burn – Thursday, September 20

Reminder: Annual Meeting Thursday September 20

Dan sent us this link:

Fire in a thermic oak-pine forest in Linville Gorge
Shay Dumas and Howie Neufeld, 2007.
Castanea 72(2) 92-104.

Southern Appalachian Botanical Society

In the fall of 2000, a ground fire burned much of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, North Carolina, providing an opportunity to study the effects of fire on an oak-pine forest that had not been burned in 50 years. There was no immediate overstory mortality in our study plots. Most aboveground stems of Kalmia latifolia were killed back, but most survived and subsequently resprouted. Fire reduced surface organic horizons by nearly 50%, and increased light penetration ∼15%, resulting in greater soil temperature extremes. Fire increased species richness in the herb layer and allowed establishment of pine seedlings and also the exotic invasive tree species Paulownia tomentosa. Rates of soil respiration and litter decomposition were significantly lower in burned plots one year post-fire. Changes in the microenvironment in the lower strata following fire were caused primarily by the disappearance of the Kalmia canopy. This temporary loss of the shrub layer appeared to influence composition of the ground layer as well as fostering the re-accumulation of surface soil carbon via reduced litter decay.

U.S. Forest Service report at:

USDA Forest Service Southern Region, February 1989;
Technical Publication R8-TP 11

Environmental Effects

Prescribed burning has direct and indirect effects on the environment. Proper use of prescribed fire, and evaluation of the benefits and costs of a burn require knowledge of how fire affects vegetation, wildlife, soil, water, and air. Burning techniques and timing of burns can be varied to alter fire effects.

Effects on Vegetation
Fire may injure or kill part of a plant or the entire plant, depending on how intensely the fire burns and how long the plant is exposed to high temperatures. In addition, plant characteristics such as bark thickness and stem diameter influence the susceptibility to fire. Small trees of any species are easier to kill than large ones.

Dan Pittillo writes, “Here is a major note on how the U.S. Forest Service has become convinced of burning such places as Linville Gorge”.

After the success of the initial experiments, biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and the state designed a 10-year management plan that included regular prescribed burns. The mountain golden heather has responded and is now making a slow but steady comeback, but it is not “out of the woods” yet. While fire does control encroaching vegetation, it also makes those newly-opened ledges much more attractive as camping sites for hikers. Tremendous mortality of golden heather has resulted from campers inadvertently setting their tents on the plants, moving rocks on top of them, and trampling the habitat. The Forest Service has erected interpretive displays at the border of the wilderness area, describing the problem to visitors and directing them to more appropriate campsites. With the tremendous use this area receives, however, effective control of all visitors is virtually impossible.

After the experimental burns, botanists collected seeds of mountain golden heather. The difficult germination techniques were eventually developed, and the first seedlings were transplanted back into the wild at the type locality in 1991. Survival of the transplants was good, with many starting to produce seeds in the second year following their planting. The population at the type locality has steadily increased to 56 plants, with 75 percent of these now reproducing. Biologists also have discovered a second population on Forest Service land. Fire at this site had long been suppressed and only about two dozen mountain golden heather plants survived. The Forest Service has taken vigorous action to manage this newly-discovered population, which is outside of the designated wilderness. Trails have been permanently re-routed to eliminate trampling of this site by hikers and campers, and it is now on a regular schedule for prescribed burns.

Dan Pittillo writes, “Here is a personal account of a trail through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park you might like to compare to fire impacts”.

Here are some other fire links from organizations that advocate for prescribed burning:

NC Prescribed Fire Council

The Nature Conservancy

Controlled Burning for Safe Communities and Healthy Ecosystems

Everyone benefits when ecosystems are kept in balance with prescribed fire.
Read about how controlled burning helps North Carolina.

Bringing Fire Back to the Mountains

Controlled fire in the coastal plain is nothing new, but for the mountains it is. Read how fire is good for forests, plants and wildlife.

Smokey Bear Official Website

More information will be published on the evening of Monday, October 1. Stay tuned.

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