Controlled Burns in Coming Months Will Smoke Up Moore
BY FLORENCE GILKISON
Sandhills residents will be seeing smoke from pine forests in coming months, but these controlled burns will not be in Moore County.
The Nature Conservancy will conduct controlled burns in three areas of two neighboring counties through March.
"Longleaf pines need fire," says Ryan Elting, director of the Conservancy's Sandhills project. "A healthy longleaf pine forest is essential for the survival of many plants and animals, particularly the red-cockaded woodpecker, which makes its home almost exclusively in living longleaf pines.
"Conducting controlled burns also reduces the chance of big out-of-control wildfires that threaten people and homes."
Areas scheduled for controlled burns between now and March are Carvers Creek State Park in Cumberland County, Calloway Forest Preserve and Quewhiffle Creek Preserve, both in Hoke County. Quewhiffle Creek is in the Ashley Heights community at the border with Moore County.
Although the Conservancy has offices in downtown Southern Pines, the nonprofit does not own any land in Moore County. However, the Conservancy does assist with work at Weymouth Woods State Nature Preserve with controlled burns in the Southern Pines area, according to Debbie Crane, public information officer for the Conservancy in North Carolina.
"There is a lot of controlled burning across the Sandhills and lots of partners involved in the burning," Crane says. "Folks in Moore County are likely to see smoke in the coming months, but that smoke is for a good cause - restoring the longleaf pines."
During the 2009 controlled burn season, the Conservancy burned 1,300 acres in the Sandhills. It was a record year.
Fires were once commonplace in the Sandhills, according to Elting. These were low-intensity fires fueled by grass and pine straw, which kept hardwood trees at bay and allowed the -longleaf pines to thrive.
Elting says that letting fire run its course became unpopular in the 20th century, with land managers emphasizing fire suppression.
Fire suppression, along with development and changes in forest management, dramatically affected longleaf pine forests.
Prior to European settlement, 90 million acres of longleaf pine were found in the South. Today, only about 2 million acres exist, with what is regarded as some of the finest stands found in the Sandhills area of North Carolina.
The Nature Conservancy has an extensive fire program, staffed with experts who know and understand fire, Crane says. She says controlled burn participants receive extensive training to ensure that they are careful to protect surrounding communities as well as themselves and the land they are working to restore. Controlled burns are conducted by a trained team under the guidance of a fire boss, who has years of experience and training.
Elting says burns are carefully planned. He adds that fire experts do a great deal of work before the first match is lit. These experts begin work by developing a burn plan, including smoke and fire control, allowable weather, equipment and personnel needs.
The plan takes into consideration how the ecosystem will benefit from fire. Preparation also includes creating firebreaks, which are wide corridors of cleared vegetation around the burn area. Firebreaks ensure that fire doesn't leave the burn area.
The Nature Conservancy was established to protect ecologically important lands and waters, which is accomplished by outright purchase where feasible. Now with more than one million members, the Conservancy has under its protection some 18 million acres in the United States and has helped to preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.
The North Carolina chapter has 21,000 members who have protected almost 700,000 acres in the state. The Web site address is nature.org/northcarolina.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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