Rocky Gap State Park has announced that it is planning to conduct a 90-acre controlled burn on Evitt’s Mountain on Wednesday, November 9 in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) if weather conditions permit.
The final timing of the controlled burn will be dependent on weather and site conditions. Updates on the status of the burn will be available at the Friends of Rocky Gap Facebook page and TNC's Working with Fire program page on nature.org.
The location of the controlled burn provides a unique opportunity to watch this conservation practice firsthand, so the State Park and TNC have also announced a public viewing station starting at 12:00 pm noon.
The viewing station will be located inside the Hawks Nest Café concession stand, which has a clear view of Evitt’s Mountain from the other side of Lake Habeeb. The State Park will be waiving entrance fees for the day, and complimentary snacks, refreshments and giveaways will be available for anyone who comes to watch.
This is the first controlled burn to take place at Rocky Gap State Park, and it will be conducted through a partnership between the park, TNC, MD DNR Forest Service and MD DNR Wildlife and Heritage. The burn is expected to begin at 11:00 am and smoke may be visible from Interstate 68 and the surrounding area. It should be completed by 3 or 4 pm, with crew remaining to secure and monitor the burn site afterwards.
Controlled burns for forest and wildlife habitat management are always conducted with safety as the top priority. Burn staff are trained practitioners who monitor the weather leading up to and during a burn to ensure the fire remains at the desired intensity and smoke is carried up and away from roads and homes. If the required conditions for temperature, humidity, moisture levels, cloud cover and wind are not met or they unexpectedly change, the burn will be postponed.
Foresters and ecologists recognize that fire is a critical ecological process for many environments, including the typical Appalachian forests of oaks, hickories and pines that cover most of western Maryland. Since the 1930s however, a lack of fire has unintentionally harmed forest health.
The controlled burn at Rocky Gap State Park is being conducted to help a variety of fire-adapted native tree and plant species, including table mountain pine (which needs fire to regenerate), pitch pine, oak trees, blueberries, huckleberries and many native wildflowers. Many of these species are also drought tolerant, making them better equipped to thrive in changing weather conditions or a warming climate. A more open forest will also improve habitat for birds, bats and other animals, while also making it harder for destructive pests like pine beetles to travel between trees.
Another significant benefit of controlled burns is the reduction of dry wood and organic matter on the forest floor that build up over time, which then reduces the likelihood and severity of dangerous wildfires.
Part of the controlled burn will also be conducted through the use of an ignition drone, which allows a drone operator to drop incendiary devices on the interior of the burn site. This not only results in a more precise ignition pattern, but also reduces the need for crew members to traverse difficult terrain near the active burn.
Anyone interested in learning more or attending the viewing can find updates on burn scheduling at the Friends of Rocky Gap Facebook page, TNC's Working with Fire program page on nature.org or the TNC Maryland/DC chapter's Twitter feed @nature_DCMDVA. Live videos and photos of the burn will also be made available on social media to anyone interested in tuning in virtually.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.