The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership (SRBP) announced its plans for conducting controlled burns on the Shawangunk Ridge for the 2013 season which extends from mid-March to mid-December. Burns are planned to take place at several locations at Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Sam’s Point Preserve. This is the first season that controlled burns will be conducted at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Controlled burns clear out brushy, fire-prone undergrowth in the forest, and create conditions which favor regeneration of oak trees, a key species that provides abundant food and shelter for native wildlife. The practice of controlled fire also reduces the risk of more damaging wildfires by reducing the amount of fuel present in the forest. SRBP team members monitor the benefits of controlled burns to the forest of the Shawangunks to document how the practice improves forest health, and improves the resilience of the forest to changing climate conditions.
“Mohonk Preserve has been part of SRBP’s fire management team since its inception in 2005,” explained Glenn Hoagland, Executive Director of the Preserve. “The 2013 burn season is part of a set of connected conservation science and historical and evolving land management efforts at the Preserve to better understand and help our precious and ecologically vital forests.”
Controlled burns are set safely and intentionally under predetermined conditions and are not set unless all of the required conditions (including moisture levels and wind) are met. Burns are conducted in the Shawangunks in the spring and the fall by experienced crews with in-depth training, who work closely with meteorologists and other scientists to determine when conditions are right for a burn to take place. To date, 21 burns totaling about 330 acres have been conducted in the Shawangunks.
“The controlled burns will be the first ever conducted at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and one of only two other areas in the history of New York State Parks,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Our experience with the Overlook Fire in April 2008 underscored the need to address the build- up of forest fuels which can be achieved through a program of controlled burns. Controlled burning is a practice which also improves the ecological health of the Shawangunk forest by restoring wildlife habitat, and supporting the growth and health of native plants and trees,” added Commissioner Harvey.
“Changes in our local weather patterns may result in greater frequency of wildfire,” said Cara Lee, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Shawangunk Ridge Program. “Using controlled burns is a prescription for less severe wildfires in the future, which is desirable for people who live in the vicinity as well as the ecosystem and the life it supports.”
The Shawangunk Ridge burn team draws on the fire management expertise of staff from The Nature Conservancy. Also participating will be qualified Mohonk Preserve rangers, staff from Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sam’s Point Preserve, NYS DEC Forest Rangers, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and trained volunteer firefighters. Fire management in the Shawangunks is funded in part through a grant awarded by Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
About controlled burns
Controlled burns (also known as prescribed fire) have been used nationwide as a land management tool for more than 40 years. Over the past 10 years, federal land management agencies have conducted approximately 14,000 controlled burns annually over more than 2 million acres. Many of the plant communities of the Shawangunks have developed adaptations that allow them to survive, or even depend on periodic fires, including globally rare pitch pines. Fire helps recycle nutrients, reduce invasive species, and maintain habitats for diverse animals. Controlled burns decrease the build up of overgrown vegetation, dead wood, and other wildland fuel that can lead to wildfires.
About the new “open burning” ban
New statewide laws took effect in 2009 that now prohibit open burning for debris disposal of any sort during March 16 through May 14. The purpose of this regulation is to prevent brush pile fires from escaping and igniting wildfires during the peak wildfire season. Prescribed burns are exempt from this new regulation due to the strict safety measures that are put into effect before prescribed burns are ignited, and plans for these burns have be reviewed by DEC in advance. Prescribed fire managers carefully track weather and fuel conditions leading up to and during controlled burns to ensure that all parameters are within an acceptable range, thus minimizing the probability of a fire escaping to ignite a wildfire. If you have any questions about open burning restrictions, contact NYS DEC at 845-256-3000.
About the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership
Over 40,000 acres of the ridge are protected by the members of the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership. Composed of non-profit and public organizations, the Partnership uses science and land management strategies to preserve sensitive wildlife habitat and other natural resources. Informed by field research findings, partners collaboratively manage the larger landscape, provide environmental education, and work with local communities to preserve open space on the slopes of the ridge. The Partnership consists of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, The Nature Conservancy, the Mohonk Preserve, the Open Space Institute, New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Museum, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Cragsmoor Association, and Friends of the Shawangunks. For more information, visit www.gunksfireplan.org.
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.