Efforts to use prescribed fire to manage ecosystems and improve public safety in Massachusetts will expand with the recent award of $374,000 from the US Forest Service.
Over the next year, state foresters and Nature Conservancy fire ecology experts will work in partnership to restore 925 acres of fire adapted ecosystems in Massachusetts with prescribed fire, as well as drafting a Fire Management Plan for Manuel Correllus State Forest on Martha’s Vineyard, which will guide ongoing fire work.
“These funds will provide the needed staff to push the scope of our work to the next level,” said Fire Manager Bob Bale, of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. Without safe, professionally controlled fires to reduce the fuel load, the pine barrens of Southeastern Massachusetts face the risk of wildfires – like a 1957 fire in Plymouth that blazed across 15,000 acres in a single day. Nationally, more than a billion dollars each year is spent fighting wildfires.
And many plants and animals have adapted to regular fire and, in fact, struggle to survive when it is absent from the landscape. Here in Massachusetts, 118 species – many of them rare – need fire. For example, prairie warblers depend upon recurring fire to maintain open shrublands. The barrens tiger beetle, barrens buckmoth and whippoorwill also rely on periodic fires to create the early-successional habitat that they prefer.
Both the state and the Conservancy have received funds from the USFS previously during nearly a decade of partnership on prescribed fire in Southeast Massachusetts and its offshore islands. Nationally, more than a billion dollars of federal stimulus money has been dedicated to forest restoration and prescribed fire work through the US Forest Service, with about $2 million of that funding coming to Massachusetts.
This new award will support ongoing expansion of the work that has been so accelerated in recent years with stimulus funding, Bale explained. In recent years, burns as large as 100 acres have successfully been completed. The USFS funds will allow the TNC and DCR partnership to burn at a more ecologically significant scale. Large, periodic fires are a natural cycle in these landscapes. Restoring this cycle reduces the risks to neighboring communities of both fire damage and hazardous smoke.
“With the community support that is in place, and the proven partnership between DCR and TNC, we expect to burn twice as many acres as we did last year,” Bale said.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.