Scientists to study the impact of fire Thursday in Bent Creek

Scientists to study the impact of fire Thursday in Bent Creek

10 August 2011

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USA — On Thursday, the USDA Forest Service will conduct a one-day prescribed burn over approximately 42 acres of national forest land in the Bent Creek area of Buncombe County.

The prescribed fire is part of a multi-year research study led by scientists at Bent Creek Experimental Forest, part of the Forest Service Southern Research Station. Planned and supervised by the National Forests in North Carolina, the fire will occur when weather conditions permit; wind and humidity are key factors in fire behavior, safety and smoke mitigation.

The safety of firefighters and the lives and property of the public is the No. 1 priority. The public is asked to heed signs posted at trailheads and roads and to stay away from burn sites and off closed roads and trails.

Nearby residents with respiratory health issues may need to stay indoors with windows closed if there is significant smoke. The Forest Service will do everything possible to reduce smoke from the prescribed burn.

Scientists at Bent Creek will compare the effects of the growing season (June-September) prescribed burn to a dormant season (January-early March) burn to discover how timing affects hardwood regeneration, herbaceous plants, fuels such as woody debris and shrubs and breeding bird communities.

The study site consists of nine units, about 12 acres each, all together encompassing about 120 acres. Three units will be burned this summer, and three other units will be burned in winter. The remaining units will be left unburned to serve as a control or reference for assessing how fire affects hardwood ecosystems.

The Bent Creek study includes repeated prescribed burning at approximately three to five-year intervals, depending on weather, accumulated forest debris, and the availability of personnel.

Oaks once dominated Southern forests, providing food for wildlife and high quality timber. However, in the Southern Appalachians, as mature oaks die, they are not replaced by younger oak trees. Prescribed fire is often used to regenerate oaks, but there are few long-term studies measuring its effectiveness in upland hardwood ecosystems, and even fewer studies examine the effects of prescribed fires conducted in the growing season.

Bent Creek Experimental Forest’s innovative, rigorous and scientific study promises to inform and guide hardwood ecosystem restoration efforts in the Southern Appalachians.

Historically, fire was used by Native Americans and settlers to maintain an open understory, but in the 1930s, forest fires began to be viewed as destructive, and were suppressed whenever possible. Fire suppression increases wildfire risk as woody debris and shrubs accumulate.

The Forest Service is required to meet state air quality requirements and will conduct smoke modeling to reduce the possible effects of smoke emissions. Adequate personnel and equipment will be on site, and the fire should be completed in a single day.

Visit for more information on prescribed fire. For more information about research at Bent Creek Experimental Forest on prescribed fire and upland hardwood ecosystem restoration, contact Julia Murphy at 828-667-5261 ext. 104

Headquartered in Asheville, the Southern Research Station is comprised of more than 120 scientists and several hundred support staff who conduct natural resource research in 20 locations across 13 southern states (Virginia to Texas).

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