When Wetlands Call for the Firefighters

I was in the Wetlands this morning, just exploring
around, and on my way back I saw this strange sight.
Everything was on fire.
-Halidorn, World of Warcraft game forum

The popular multi-player video game, World of Warcraft, which I’ve never played, makes regular appearances on my Googlesearches for wetlands because it has a zone called “The Wetlands.” I came across the above quote about wetlands on fire and it reminded me of a past Compleat Wetlanderpost on the role of fire in wetlands http://aswm.org/wordpress/wetlands-and-fire/. As a follow-up to that post, here are some additional areas of research—of particular interest are three ways that prescribed burns are used to manage wetlands: water quality, restoration and mitigation.

The Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center in Georgia published a journal article on “Effects of Prescribed Fire on Wetland Water Quality,” based on data that the research team, including Dr. Stephen Golladay, collected 2000-2001. This is now posted on the ASWM webpage for wetlands and water quality here: http://aswm.org/wetland-programs/water-quality-standards-for-wetlands/1276-prescribed-fires-impact-on-water-quality-of-depressional-wetlands-in-southwestern-georgia Prescribed fire as a tool for wetlands restoration has been used throughout the nationhttp://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/58825/1/2.4.Robertson.pdf and is documented in the 1988 FWS biological report, on file at the USGS North American Prairie Wildlife Research Center http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/literatr/firewild/.

There are three general types of prescribed burns in wetlands: 1) surface/cover burns are cool fires used to remove organic material; 2) root burns, hotter fires that are used to control certain species; and 3) peat burns—used to create open water areas. The Phoenix Fire Department worked with wetland managers in Arizona on research related to prescribed burns in wetlands in 2004:http://phoenix.gov/TRESRIOS/research.htmlFor other examples of prescribed burns in wetland management areas, see photos from the Leopold Wetland Management District http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest/sets/72157626293502556/ and from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge:http://www.fws.gov/lacreek/fire.htm

More recently prescribed burns have been applied as part of wetland mitigation, such as the burn held this past April at the new airport site in Florida: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xi5cmg_wetlands-mitigation-prescribed-burn-at-the-new-airport-site_news and this fire managed on a wetland mitigation site in Arkansas back in March 2011: http://www.fayettevilleflyer.com/2011/03/17/prescribed-burn-on-broyles-avenue/ These prescribed burns on wetlands require a collaborative team usually involving a wildland fire division (whether state or federal), state wetland managers and wetland consultants, such as the Kevin L. Erwin Consulting Ecologist firm (KLECE) in Florida, which was involved with the Little Pine Island Mitigation Bank project in March 2011 http://environment.com/index.php/tag/prescribed-burning/ .

In addition, several other prescribed burns occurred in wetlands this spring: Chequamegon-Nicolet National Foresthttp://ashlandcurrent.com/article/11/05/25/more-prescribed-burns-chequamegon-forest North Carolina (to encourage longleaf pine)http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20110610/ARTICLES/110619991/-1/news05?Title=Work-at-Orton-will-encourage-longleaf-pine-growth and Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (to control phragmites)http://www.thenewsherald.com/articles/2011/05/26/news/doc4ddeb12fd71a

From the wildland firefighter’s perspective, fire management guidelines described by the U.S. Forest Service include proper care and use of equipment in order to protect wetlands and water quality. The guidelines include considerations such as avoiding damage to the hydrology during planned burn operations (prescribed burns) and a recommendation to use natural fuel breaks, such as streams, as opposed to artificial fuel breaks like fire retardant. These guidelines also ensure the benefits of fire—when managed properly—to wetland ecosystems. http://nrs.fs.fed.us/fmg/nfmg/docs/mn/FireMgmt.pdf

Additionally, a recent study published in the Journal of the Ecological Society of America discusses the National Fire Plan and management techniques for forest restoration in the west.

http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/090199 Also in the current issue of Ecological Applications is an article of interest: “Variability of tundra fire regimes in Arctic Alaska: millennial-scale patterns and ecological implications” http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0387.1

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