Important wildlife habitat will be maintained with broader use of prescribed fire on 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands as a result of a new cooperative management agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
TNC will provide fire management training for Game Commission staff and assistance with controlled burns on state lands. In the future, well-trained state and Conservancy staff will work cooperatively to meet the fire management goals of both groups. The Game Commission will allocate up to $600,000 of its federal Pittman-Robertson Program funds over two years for the effort, with the potential to extend the agreement in the future.
Prescribed fire is an important management tool that Game Commission habitat managers have safely used in a variety of habitats in recent years. This new cooperative effort will allow the state to expand its use by working with TNC fire specialists who have been analyzing fire’s impacts and fine-tuning burning techniques.
“Probably no other management tool or practice can achieve the ecosystem health benefits at a large scale on a cost-per-acre basis as efficiently as prescribed fire,” said Todd Sampsell, Director of Conservation Operations for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania.
To ensure the safety and efficacy of prescribed burns, TNC and Game Commission staff will adhere to the fire management guidelines set forth in the state’s new Prescribed Burning Practices Act, as well as the National Wildfire Consulting Group, a coalition of state and federal agencies.
About 80 percent of forests and rangelands in the United States are no longer managed with consideration of fire’s natural role on the landscape. Fires have always been a part of the ecology of the Appalachian Mountains. And in Pennsylvania, plant regeneration, nutrient cycling and general habitat health may be improved with controlled burning. For example, oak – an important food source for many wildlife species – repopulates better after a fire. Fire can also be used to maintain habitats that are important for an array of wildlife from white-tailed deer to neo-tropical migrant songbirds.
”From a wildlife habitat perspective, prescribed fire is the most universal and beneficial management tool we have. Fire is essential in maintaining quality food and cover for wildlife,” said Ben Jones, Chief of the Game Commission’s Habitat Planning and Development Division.
The Nature Conservancy has long been recognized as a leader in prescribed fire, and this agreement comes at a time when fire management is a priority for both groups. The Pennsylvania Assembly and Gov. Ed Rendell lent their support to fire management last summer, with unanimous approval of the Prescribed Burning Practices Act, which aims to bring fire back to the land by providing liability protection for land stewards who use fire responsibly.
This new partnership will demonstrate the benefits of collaborating in fire management, and we anticipate that the knowledge gained by TNC and the state will affect far larger landscapes than those currently being managed by the Conservancy, said Patrick McElhenny, fire manager for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals and their habitats for current and future generations. Visit the PA Game Commission on the Web at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
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.
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