By Mindy Love, DPW
Fort Bragg takes ecosystem management seriously. An important part of ecosystem management on the installation is prescribed fire. What is a prescribed fire? A prescribed fire, also referred to as a controlled burn, is an intentional fire controlled by a team of experts applied to fire adapted landscapes. On Fort Bragg, the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem is fire dependent and requires prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads, manage important habitats, assist with wildlife management, and is also beneficial to military training!
Fort Bragg uses prescribed fire to reduce vegetation, or fuel, which could lead to large, uncontrolled wildfires. Prescribed burning promotes the regeneration/germination of longleaf pine and many other plant species and controls hardwoods in the forest understory. Wildlife management in the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem, including management of rare and endangered species, requires frequent burning. This method of vegetation control also creates an improved and safer training environment for our military.
Each year the installation creates a detailed plan for the areas to be burned, describing the management objectives for the burn. Trained forestry and natural resources personnel conduct prescribed burns across approximately 55,000 acres of training lands annually. Included in the plan is the procedure for fire and smoke management, allowable weather conditions and personnel needs, as well as an action plans in the event of changing conditions.
The bulk of the controlled burns take place from December through June when weather conditions are favorable. Firebreaks, wide roads or trails which are graded or cleared of vegetation to ensure that the fire does not leave the area, dot the installation landscape. Additionally, Fort Bragg Forestry personnel use a variety of vehicles and equipment such as pumpers with water tanks, graders, tractor plows, and an assortment of hand tools to ensure the burns are controlled. Burns are normally conducted when forecasted wind conditions will cause smoke to be blown away from major roads, buildings, housing areas and airfields.
Our Longleaf Pine Ecosystem is dependent on fire. The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW), a federally listed endangered species found on Fort Bragg, requires its habitat to be managed by regular fires. This is vital to its population management and the continued success of the RCW on Fort Bragg. Many other plants and animals also require fire to reproduce or thrive. Prescribed burns reduce competition, release seeds, and add nutrients to the soil, all which benefit numerous species. Equally important, prescribed fire directly and indirectly supports the military mission and optimizes training conditions for our soldiers.
Without fire, the forest may develop a dense undergrowth of shrubs and young hardwood trees which can grow into the mid-story of the forest canopy. These changes to the forest can make areas unsuitable for some species of wildlife.
Wildfires have the potential to be more dangerous and destructive in the absence of prescribed fire due to the increased fuel accumulation in the form of vegetation. Reducing this fuel consequently reduces the risk to people and property created by wildfires. Smoke from wildfires is difficult to control, and it carries more pollutants than smoke from prescribed burns. Each year installation Forestry personnel respond to approximately 250 wildfires which are normally smaller in size and easily controlled due to the prescribed burning program.
Fort Bragg coordinates with numerous stakeholders including the North Carolina Department of Environment Quality and the North Carolina Forest Service when conducting prescribed burns. The installation also notifies the public of prescribed burning activity via installation social media.
Prescribed burns are vital for managing of Fort Bragg’s unique longleaf pine ecosystem, which provides an environment essential for the training our soldiers today and tomorrow.
For more information on the prescribed burn program on Fort Bragg contact the Forestry Branch at 910-396-2510.