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Fire and Conservation: Where We Work

Songshan Reserve Fire Assessment

Conservancy ecologists are working to bring beneficial fire back to ecological areas like Songshan.

Fire plays in important role in maintaining many types of forests, grasslands and arid lands around the world. However, in many places such as China the role of fire, if any, is poorly understood. Nature Conservancy fire ecologists are working to fill these knowledge gaps in high-priority conservation areas.

A Conservation Window into China's Reserve System

Established in 1986, Songshan is the only national level reserve in Beijing – approximately a 90-minute drive outside the city. This project is of considerable importance to the Chinese government because the 2008 Beijing Olympics are themed as the “Green Games.” As part of this initiative, the government will showcase Songshan as a “conservation window” to the country’s nature reserve system. 

The Nature Conservancy, based on its nine-year record of success in China, has been invited by the Beijing Municipal Government and the State Forestry Administration to help guide the development of Songshan into a world-class managed nature reserve. Conservancy staff were invited to carry out a fire assessment as part of a master plan the Conservancy is developing for the reserve. Songshan is the pilot site for conservation planning for the entire nature reserve system.

Songshan Fire Assessment

Global Fire Initiative staff visited Songshan National Nature Reserve in Beijing, China, in August 2007 to assess the role of fire in maintaining Chinese red pine and other vegetation types in the Reserve. Virtually all pine species regenerate in response to canopy and soil disturbances that create exposed mineral soil and result in direct sunlight reaching the forest floor. In many cases the predominant disturbance is fire.

Based on their observations, the team concluded that fire is only one of several types of disturbances that one would expect to promote regeneration of Chinese red pine. This conclusion is based largely on the observation that although Chinese red pine has some features that would allow it to persist and regenerate following fires, these features are not pronounced. Although the reserve’s red pine forests apparently do not need fire to regenerate, a number of other tree species found in Songshan Reserve, including aspen and various oaks, are likely to respond positively to fire.

A Vision for the Future

The Conservancy is using the Songshan fire assessment to raise awareness of Integrated Fire Management as a way to holistically address China’s fire-related problems. However, much more needs to be done. Protected area managers need to be trained in prescribed burning, and more studies are needed on the fire ecology of China’s ecosystems. A study tour is being planned for 2008 to showcase for Chinese officials several pine barrens conservation and prescribed fire projects across the Northeastern U.S. 

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