PA Prescribed Fire 6
In the Line of Fire A Conservancy Fire Team member on the front lines of a © Pat McElhenny/The Na

Stories in Pennsylvania

Fire Management in Pennsylvania

The Nature Conservancy’s employs fire management around the state because fire fuels the health of many Pennsylvania natural habitats.

To many people’s surprise, fire plays an integral role in shaping and maintaining several types of ecosystems historically found in Pennsylvania. In fact, 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.

To address these challenges, The Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands program arranges partnerships with private landowners and forest certification and carbon revenue experts to share forest management expertise. These arrangements require no out-of-pocket expense, only a commitment to protecting the land from development, forever.

Benefits of Fire

Native Americans routinely introduced fire into the landscape as Pennsylvania's forests, barrens and grasslands evolved. Even wetlands have a fire history.

Prescribed fire can serve as an efficient and effective tool for enhancing healthy forests by limiting competition from faster growing, less beneficial species. It is also used to encourage growth and reduce unwanted competition in pine forests and oak systems. Grasslands also benefit greatly from an annual application of fire, which reduces woody growth and encourages a variety of favorable species of grasses and forbs.

Using fire—in the right places and at the right times—can affect many goods and services provided by Pennsylvania’s natural resources. Controlled burns can also mitigate dry conditions and utilize fuel in ways that promote public safety from wildfires.

Fire Prescription

Around the world, human development, fire suppression and a changing climate has altered the ways fire behaves within the landscape. However, fire still has a role to play in the health of our natural landscape.

In response, The Nature Conservancy has identified fire as key a conservation strategy for conserving several nature preserves and publicly and privately managed lands around the state. In these places, the Conservancy works with partners to reintroduce fire in ways that mimic the historic and naturally-occurring fire patterns.

The Conservancy regularly employs fire as a conservation strategy on some of our nature preserves throughout the Commonwealth, including at the Dick and Nancy Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain, at Long Pond and at the West Branch Preserve. Conservancy-led fire crews use prescribed burning at conservation lands owned and managed by partners such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania State University and Bethlehem Authority.

Using fire as a conservation management tool in Pennsylvania has increased markedly since the unanimous passing of the Prescribed Fire Act in 2009. As of 2017, the Conservancy and partners implemented 1,037 prescribed fires on more than 58,000 acres in Pennsylvania. These include the following projects: 

·         Working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission on training and implementing prescribed fire in targeted areas. Even at its halfway point, the arrangement already delivered classroom instruction to 665 students, and improved wildlife habitat and forest health on approximately 10,000 acres at 30 different sites around the state.

·         Working with Penn State University to restore an 11-acre patch to be used as a prairie demonstration site at the Arboretum. Prescribed burns are helping to increase the desired grasses and forbs, and to reduce the woody vegetation that was originally taking over the site.

·         Assisting partners with prescribed burns to maintain more than 6,000 acres of unique barrens habitat around the state. 

The Conservancy participates in a science-driven decision making process in order to determine when and where to introduce fire to a landscape. First and foremost, it must benefit plants and animals. We try to pick up where Native Americans left off, utilizing fire as tool to restore some of the rarest habitats in Pennsylvania.

We also set high standards for ensuring that our staff are highly trained for this work. This includes requiring that all Conservancy fire staff receives the same training as federal agencies. This consistency allows us to work with these agencies on controlled burns within the state and at wildfire emergencies across the nation.

Every spring I look forward to again being on the fireline in anticipation of the camaraderie, the focus on safety and especially, the opportunity to positively enhance the health of a forest or other fire-dependent habitat. Each

fire manager for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania
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