Coproducing science on prescribed fire, thinning, and vegetation dynamics on a National Forest in Alabama.
Southeastern forests are no strangers to fire. Historically, frequent fire was prevalent across the landscape (Guyette and others 2012; Lafon and others 2017). Today, however, wildfire affects southeastern upland hardwood forests only to a limited extent due to effective fire suppression. (An exception of note was in 2016, when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced a 17,000-acre wildfire near Gatlinburg, TN, killing 14 people and causing $500 million in damage.) Most fires are quickly suppressed; human-ignited wildfires are normally small in area, driven by climate, terrain, and vegetation. This loss of fire from the southern region is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning in about the 1950s. It has resulted in forest changes that are not always considered desirable due to loss of native biodiversity, decline in quality of wildlife habitat, and escalating problems in regenerating oak and pine species.