Prescribed fire effects in a longleaf pine ecosystem--are winter fires working?This article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) ecosystems once dominated 60 to 90 million acres and supported one of the most diverse floras in North America. It is well-known that longleaf pine ecosystems must burn frequently to maintain natural structure and function. This vegetation type ranks as one of the most fire-dependent in the country and must burn frequently (multiple times a decade) for natural structure and function to be maintained. Frequent fires maintain relatively low fuel loads, so many burns do not directly affect adult longleaf trees. However all species are immediately affected by each fire that burns through a stand. Because many resident species are perennials that re-sprout after fires, it likely takes multiple burns to change the plant assemblage of the ground layer. There is a need is for better insight into fire effects on small woody stems in the ground layer. In 1984 a long-termstudy was established on the Escambia Experimental Forest in Brewton, Alabama to study the impact of fire on longleaf pine growth. Spring and winter burns at 2-, 3-, and 5-year return intervals were implemented and have been continued since that time. Hardwood species composition from each of the season of burn and fire frequency treatments will be discussed. Winter burning has not removed what are considered to be fire-intolerant species such as water oak (Quercus nigra L.) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.), from the landscape. These species will make future fires more difficult to make and eventually make it difficult to regenerate longleaf pine.