Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131
April 10, 2006
Photo credits: Robert Mickler
(left) A firefighter uses a terra torch to throw flames across a canal and secure the edge of the North Navy burn unit located along Navy Shell Road as part of a joint prescribed burn at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range.
(right) Wildland firefighters discuss the fire behavior and holding tactics during a joint prescribed burn at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare County Bombing Range.
Map credit: USFWS
Approved prescribed burning units on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge for the 2006 season.
National Wildlife Refuges in Eastern North Carolina Managed with Prescribed Fire
Prescribed burning is an effective management tool, but it is highly dependent on the weather. When planning the prescribed burning season, national wildlife refuges generally select more units for burning than can be achieved in order to have a variety of options available for what the weather dictates. The prescribed burning season generally begins in the fall and runs through mid-spring. The exact start and stop dates of the season are fully dependent on whether the conditions are right for achieving the defined management objectives of the burn During this year's burn season thus far, the Fish and Wildlife Service has accomplished prescribed burning on an impressive 27,000 acres on five national wildlife refuges in eastern North Carolina. In addition, a prescribed fire is scheduled for Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge this week.
This year’s season did not begin until late January. The fall proved too wet for burning with even the marsh grasses staying too green to burn. In January, conditions in the marshes and farm fields at Alligator River improved to allow for prescribed burning. The woodlands and pocosins became dry enough in February. These conditions remained suitable in eastern North Carolina through early March. Fire personnel from the US Fish &Wildlife Service, with assistance from its cooperators, were able to burn the 27,000 acres described above between January 20 and March 17. The units actually burned were those with suitable fuel and duff moisture conditions at the time of an acceptable wind direction. Fuel moisture readings in the forest vegetation layers and duff layer (decomposing plant matter just under the layer of leaves lying on the surface) are carefully monitored so that they are high enough to reduce the chances of a prescribed burn causing significant amounts of ground fire or damage to larger trees.
In early March, a research burn was accomplished in an area known as the North Navy Units (see map), which includes land on the Dare Bombing Range and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Data from this prescribed burn will improve knowledge on how much and what kind of smoke particles are put into the air by burning and improve modeling programs that predict where the smoke will go. Five other research burns for smoke management were accomplished this season on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and the Croatan National Forest.
There were two attempts to burn in the North Stumpy Point Compartment, but the only success was in burning marsh and some of the wooded portions of Unit 2 (see map). The center block of woods in this unit did not burn as they proved too wet. Further attempts at prescribed burning in this Compartment had to be tabled due to high fire danger conditions, with low humidities and high winds, across eastern North Carolina. Over the past two years, this high priority area has proven to be extremely difficult to burn. The major factors needed to accomplish these burns have not coincided: favorable winds to keep smoke off of US Highway 264 and Stumpy Point citizens with adequate fuel moisture to allow the fire to spread but not in a manner that leads to extreme fire behavior or ground fire. It is also necessary to obtain a helicopter to burn these areas. Several times this season we were unable to find a qualified helicopter when conditions were right.
As March progressed, fire staff had to "switch modes" from prescribed burning to fire suppression. Conditions became so dry that the potential for unplanned ignitions leading to large, actively burning wildfires became a reality. As April begins, opportunities may yet exist for prescribed burning if some rain continues. Conditions will be monitored closely and burn units picked in close coordination with biologists to limit the short term impacts to nesting birds or whelping red wolf puppies.
Questions or comments about the prescribed burning program at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge may be directed to Kelley Van Druten at 252-473-1131 extension 235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.