Long-Term Research on Fire Ecology in the Southern Appalachians

Eastern fence lizard, one of the reptile species studied at Green River Game Land. Photo by Sally King, courtesy of National Park Service.
Eastern fence lizard, one of the reptile species studied at Green River Game Land. Photo by Sally King, courtesy of National Park Service.

Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Upland Hardwoods Ecology and Management unit recently received a grant from the Joint Fire Sciences Program to continue a study on the long-term effects on wildlife of using prescribed fire and mechanical fuel reduction treatments in upland hardwood forests.

The study is on the southern Appalachian site of the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study led by Tom Waldrop, team leader with the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science, and is located on the Green River Game Land in North Carolina.

“Prescribed burning is a commonly used management tool for upland hardwood forests, with fuel reduction, ecosystem restoration, and wildlife habitat improvement often cited as primary goals,” says Katie Greenberg, project leader of the SRS Upland Hardwoods unit who directs the wildlife research component of the multidisciplinary study.  “Although ecosystem ‘restoration’ burns are being used more frequently across large landscapes with complex and diverse topography, the knowledge about how different frequencies, seasons, or severities of burns affect wildlife communities is incomplete. This long-term research is providing insight into how birds, reptiles and amphibians, small mammals, insects, and forest vegetation respond to repeated burning and burn severity over time.”

Since 2002, researchers have conducted two mechanical fuel reductions in one of the treatments; three low-intensity prescribed fires in another; and a high-severity prescribed fire (with heavy tree mortality) followed by two additional low-intensity burns in the third fuel reduction treatment–all on the study area in the Green River Game Land.

Recent publications about the research include a 2010 article by Greenberg, Waldrop and others on the results of a study of reptile and amphibian response to fuel reduction in the study areas. In 2013, with different collaborators, they published the results of a study on bird response to fire severity and repeated burning in the same areas.

Over the next few years, SRS scientists and research partners from North Carolina State University and Highpoint University will study how reptiles and amphibians, breeding birds, insects, and vegetation respond to fuel reduction treatments in the long-term. The study is a research partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Research results will help land managers establish objectives and plan science-based treatments to meet their forest management and restoration goals.

Read more about the project in a previous CompassLive article.

For more information, contact Katie Greenberg at kgreenberg@fs.fed.us or Tom Waldrop at twaldrop@fs.fed.us.

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.