Enhancing Habitat Through Prescribed Fire

 

CRE RxB (1)As New Jersey Audubon’s Optics Sale settled down on Saturday, March 15th, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) geared up to give the Center for Research and Education (CRE) a little tender loving care. With favorable weather conditions and winds in the right direction, the NJFFS set a controlled fire, or prescribed burn, to the meadow behind the CRE building. As an effective and efficient management tool, a prescribed burn will provide several benefits to this small 1-acre field. Not only will this help maintain the area as an open habitat, it will also help reduce the risk of future wildfires, prevent the spread of plant disease and pests, recycle nutrients back into the soil, and promote plant CRE RxB (3)growth.

One of the biggest benefit prescribed fire can have to an ecosystem is its ability to set back natural succession and recycle nutrients back into the soil. This small oasis provides valuable resources to many plant and animal species that thrive in open habitats, including butterflies, birds, reptiles, and wildflowers. As the years pass, woody vegetation begins to creep in, altering the structure of the habitat. With a prescribed burn, we can help maintain the meadow and allow it to continue to provide resources to those unique species. This young forest habitat is currently very limited in New Jersey as the forests throughout the state are mostly middle-aged. Young forest habitat is essential for many rare and declining species and provides resources for species that might typically be found in more mature forests. The open conditions will also allow stewardship staff to get ahead of any pesky invasive plants that take advantage of the newly available resources created by the fire. As plants begin to emerge from the ground, the stewardship team will be hard at work, removing any non-native, invasive plants before they get a chance to establish themselves.

CRE RxBThe use of prescribed burning can also help reduce the amount of fuel (e.g. grasses, shrubs, and woody debris) that accumulates in a wild area, preventing the outbreak of larger, more destructive wildfire in the hot summer months. In order to perform a safe and controlled burn, the fire crew wet the edge of the field and set the grasses ablaze in such a way that it would essentially keep itself in check. By creating a barrier around the field and setting the outer edge of the meadow on fire, the flames would begin to move towards the field interior. Once the flames met in the middle, there was nothing left to fuel the fire, so the flames ceased. BecCRE RxB (2)ause the fuel was rapidly used up in this fire, the meadow will be safer and healthier come summer. 

As March comes to a close, many different plants will rise from the ashes with vigor and strength due to the increased sunlight and resources reaching to soil. The grasses and flowers will arrive just in time for spring and by summer’s end, the meadow will be lush and full of life. The staff at the CRE hopes to keep track of the progress the meadow makes with regular photos and we encourage anyone stopping by to explore, observe the birds and butterflies and even submit your bird sightings to eBird (http://ebird.org/content/nj/)!