A burn crew dressed in yellow directs fire towards the ground.
Prescribed Burn: A member of the Pennsylvania burn crew applies fire to the landscape. © Pat McElhenny/The Nature Conservancy
A staff member dressed in yellow applies fire to the landscape.
Fire Team A member of Pennsylvania's fire team conducts a burn at Fort Indiantown Gap. © Pat McElhenny/The Nature Conservancy

To many people’s surprise, fire plays an integral role in several types of ecosystems historically found in Pennsylvania. In fact, fires serves as a powerful change agent that shapes ecosystems.

The specific pattern of fire—how frequently it burns, how hot it burns and during which season—helps dictate the types of plants and animals found in a given area. Native Americans routinely introduced fire as Pennsylvania's forests, barrens and grasslands evolved. Even wetlands have a fire history. This affects the goods and services that these places provide to people, and can have implications for human safety.

So, it is no surprise that The Nature Conservancy has identified fire as key strategy at projects around the state. At several nature preserves and publicly and privately managed lands, TNC reintroduces fire in ways which mimic the historic and naturally-occurring fire patterns. We accomplish this with partners who provide needed capacity for this important work.

A few things to note with regard to TNC’s controlled burning activities:

  • We re-introduce fire to landscapes across the Commonwealth for the benefit of plants and animals. We identify “restorable areas” of forest and prairies and pick up where Native Americans left off, utilizing fire as tool to restore some of the rarest habitats in Pennsylvania.
  • We carefully plan every controlled burn to ensure safety and to achieve our ecological goals. Before taking action, we conduct a comprehensive burn plan which outlines all of the information needed to conduct the burn safely. The plan also identifies weather and fuel parameters necessary to meet ecological objectives.
  • We ensure that fire staff are highly trained for this work. TNC fire staff require the same training and experience as federal agencies. This consistency has allowed the Conservancy to work hand in hand with these agencies on controlled burns and on the scene of wildfire incidents across the nation.
  • We depend on partners for success, working closely in order to increase capacity, implement controlled burns and educate the public about fire management.

Around the world, fires are behaving differently than they have throughout history due to human development, fire suppression leading to changes in fuels, and a changing climate. With more frequent and more intense wildfires, this work is more important than ever, in Pennsylvania and beyond its borders.