The Nature Conservancy purchased 2,700 acres of pineland in Sussex county, Virginia, from the Hancock Timber Resource Group in 1998 and 1999 to create Piney Grove Preserve. Our mission was to restore the property to a pine savanna, showcasing the remarkable biological diversity of southeastern Virginia’s longleaf forests.
Open pine savannas evolved naturally over many centuries as lightning strikes and Native American burning made fire a regular part of the landscape. With support from numerous partners, we've worked since 1999 to return fire to Piney Grove.
On May 3, 2017, our Virginia team, along with partners from the Virginia departments of Conservation and Recreation (Natural Heritage Program), Game and Inland Fisheries, and Forestry, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted a record-setting controlled burn at Piney Grove Preserve. 1,830 acres were burned, the single largest burn at Piney Grove to date.
Follow along on the fire lines in these outtakes from Passport to Nature: Fired Up.
Longleaf pine is a fire adapted species. It depends on fire to reveal bare mineral soil, stimulate seed germination and reduce competition from shrubs and faster-growing tree species. Planted longleaf seedlings on the preserve thrive after being burned. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Burn boss Bobby Clontz at Piney Grove Preserve. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Virginia state director Locke Ogens (left) and Senior Scientist Judy Dunscomb (right) observe red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees prior to the burn teams moving into this part of the unit.
The signature creature of Southern pine forests is the red-cockaded woodpecker. Piney Grove harbors the northernmost population in the U.S. Listed as endangered in 1970, Virginia's rarest bird nests exclusively in live pines and requires mature trees with soft heartwood for excavating nest cavities. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Faces from the fire line. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Loading the PSD
The Conservancy's Nikole Simmons (left) and Missy Neff (right) load the plastic sphere dispenser (PSD). Each ping pong sized ball contains potassium permanganate. The PSD injects the balls with glycol before releasing them. The resulting chemical reaction ignites fuels on the ground. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
HeloAir's Whit Baldwin prior to liftoff. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
The Conservancy's Nikole Simmons and Sam Lindblom snap selfies from the air.
Light filters through the smoke. Photo © Kyle LaFerriere
Fire in Motion