Why the South is decades ahead of the West in wildfire prevention

“Florida has done prescribed burns on more than 1.6 million acres so far this year. California has only burned around 35,000 acres. The state is 2.5 times larger than Florida.”

By Lauren Sommer
In early May, flames began to spread through a pine forest, consuming a dense carpet of leaves and underbrush. The burn was the definition of a “good fire,” intentionally ignited to clear vegetation that could fuel future infernos.

It happened in the state leading the nation in controlled burns: Florida.

As Western states contend with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, some are looking to the Southeastern U.S., where prescribed fire is widespread thanks to policies put in place decades ago. From 1998 to 2018, 70% of all controlled burning in the country was in the Southeast.

While a continent apart, both regions have a similar need for fire. For thousands of years, forests and woodlands experienced regular burning, both sparked by lightning and used by Native American tribes, which prevented the build up of flammable growth. Without fire, the landscape is prone to intense, potentially devastating wildfires.

Despite that risk, Western states have struggled to expand the use of controlled burns. This month, the U.S. Forest Service suspended them because of the extensive fires burning in record-dry conditions.

Now, several Western states are moving to adopt the fire policies pioneered by Florida and other Southern states as a hedge against the future. They include training problems for burn leaders and providing liability protection for them. The bigger challenge is changing the culture around fire, so that residents know that tolerating a little smoke from good fires can help stop the destructive blazes that cloud the air for weeks.

“We have this generational gap in fire knowledge in the Western U.S. that we’re trying to rebuild now,” says Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “But Florida and the Southeast still have it.”

Source: Why the South is decades ahead of the West in wildfire prevention – Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2021-08-31

USDA, Partners Unveil New Fire Mapping Tool with National Wildfire Management Implications

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today unveiled the new Southeast FireMap, a fire mapping tool for the Southeastern United States that enables resource managers to improve their regional or local approaches to managing wildfire risk and fire management needs through targeted prescribed burns and training. Fire management helps improve forest ecosystem health, increases timber values, reduces the risk of wildfire damage to life and property, reduces ticks and other pests, protects drinking water, and renews healthy ecosystems supporting wildlife habitat, especially in fire-dependent longleaf pine forests.

The SE FireMap version 1.0 decision support tool will map all detectable fires, including managed prescribed burns and wildfires, across nine states. The map and associated tools aim to improve fire management in urban and rural communities through remote sensing and will track both prescribed fire and wildfires throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The SE FireMap version 1.0 is a Google Earth Engine product and data sharing is available for conservation and community planning purposes. To see the mapping products or request data sharing, visit the partnerships’ Wildland Fire Portal or the SE FireMap. For more information, the Southern Fire Exchange will host a webinar on April 16, 2021. Follow this link to register.

Source: USDA, Partners Unveil New Fire Mapping Tool with National Wildfire Management Implications – NRCS, 2021-03-30

Laurel Wilt: Current and Potential Impacts and Possibilities for Prevention and Management

By Rabiu O. Olatinwo, Stephen W. Fraedrich and Albert E. Mayfield III

Abstract
In recent years, outbreaks of nonnative invasive insects and pathogens have caused significant levels of tree mortality and disturbance in various forest ecosystems throughout the United States. Laurel wilt, caused by the pathogen Raffaelea lauricola (T.C. Harr., Fraedrich and Aghayeva) and the primary vector, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus Eichhoff), is a nonnative pest-disease complex first reported in the southeastern United States in 2002. Since then, it has spread across eleven southeastern states to date, killing hundreds of millions of trees in the plant family Lauraceae. Here, we examine the impacts of laurel wilt on selected vulnerable Lauraceae in the United States and discuss management methods for limiting geographic expansion and reducing impact. Although about 13 species belonging to the Lauraceae are indigenous to the United States, the highly susceptible members of the family to laurel wilt are the large tree species including redbay (Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees), with a significant economic impact on the commercial production of avocado (Persea americana Mill.), an important species native to Central America grown in the United States. Preventing new introductions and mitigating the impact of previously introduced nonnative species are critically important to decelerate losses of forest habitat, genetic diversity, and overall ecosystem value.

Source: Forests | Free Full-Text | Laurel Wilt: Current and Potential Impacts and Possibilities for Prevention and Management – Forests, 2021-02-04

Planting helps restore longleaf pine forests in Florida, other coastal states

By Janet McConnaughey
When European settlers came to North America, fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines with footlong needles covered much of what became the southern United States.

Yet by the 1990s, logging and clear-cutting for farms and development had all but eliminated longleaf pines and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished.

Now, thanks to a pair of modern-day Johnny Appleseeds, landowners, government agencies and nonprofits are working to bring back pines named for the long needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets. The trees’ natural range spans the coastal plain, nine states from eastern Texas to southeast Virginia and extending into northern and central Florida.

Longleaf pines now cover as much as 7,300 square miles — and more than one-quarter of that has been planted since 2010.

“I like to say we rescued longleaf from the dustbin. I don’t think we had any idea how successful we’d be,” said Rhett Johnson, who founded The Longleaf Alliance in 1995 with another Auburn University forestry professor.

That’s not to say that the tall, straight and widely spaced pines will ever gain anything near their once vast extent. But their reach is, after centuries, expanding rather than contracting.

Scientists estimate that longleaf savannas once covered up to 143,750 square miles, an area bigger than Germany. By the 1990s, less than 3 percent remained in scattered patches. Most are in areas too wet or dry to farm.

Fire suppression played a critical role on the longleaf’s decline. Fires clear and fertilize ground that longleaf seeds must touch to sprout. Properly timed, they also spark seedlings’ first growth spurt. And, crucially for the entire ecosystem, they kill shrubs and hardwood trees that would otherwise block the sun from seedlings, grasses and wildflowers.

“The diversity of the longleaf pine system is below our knees,” sad Keith Coursey, silviculturist for about 70 percent of the 529,000-acre DeSoto National Forest in south Mississippi.

Of the 1,600 plant species found only in the Southeast, nearly 900 are only in longleaf forests, including species that trap bugs as well as fire-adapted grasses and wildflowers.

Source: Planting helps restore longleaf pine forests in Florida, other coastal states – Tampa Bay Times, 2020-12-30

Southern Timber Supply Analysis website unveiled

Forestry officials from across the southern United States have unveiled a new web application designed to help communities, investors and wood buyers determine the supply of available forest resources in a given area and make more informed decisions on where to locate wood-based businesses in the South.

“This tool could be a game changer in attracting and growing more forest-based businesses to the South,” said Southern Group of State Foresters Chairman Scott Bissette, assistant commissioner, North Carolina Forest Service.

Developed by the Southern Group of State Foresters and the USDA Forest Service, the Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is accessible at southerntimbersupply.com. It uses maps that allow users to estimate the amount of timberland, standing timber, and growth and removals within a user-specified distance or trucking time of any site in the southern United States, the Southern Group of State Foresters said in a news release.

The Southern Timber Supply Analysis web application is the first of its kind in the nation, granting public access to timber supply data in a user-friendly format to anyone with access to the internet, according to the release.

Source: Southern Timber Supply Analysis website unveiled – The Daily Times, 2019-09-26

How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S.

By Matthew Wills
The dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of the longleaf pine helped build up U.S. cities. But most of the native stands have already been logged.

If you’ve ever been to Brooklyn Bridge Park, you may have seen the sturdy, wooden-beamed benches facing the harbor. The wood for the benches was salvaged from the old National Cold Storage Warehouse complex, which was demolished for the construction of the park. It timber comes from the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, some of which was cut in the decades before 1900. The trees themselves might have been up to five centuries old when they were felled.

The Brooklyn Bridge itself had caissons—essentially enormous, upside down boxes—made of longleaf pine. The foundations of the bridge’s two towers were excavated by men working inside these caissons on the bottom of the East River. Once the excavation was done—at terrible human cost, due to caisson’s disease, AKA decompression sickness—the caissons were filled in to form the frames of the foundations of the bridge.

Even dead, the dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of longleaf pine survives a very long time. Many cities in the U.S. have nineteenth-century buildings that were built with the “good bones” of longleaf pine. They’re harvested to this day, but not in the volume they once were. There’s a simple reason for that: There just aren’t that many of them anymore.

Geographers Garrett C. Smith, Mark W. Patterson, and Harold R. Trendell track the demise of the longleaf ecosystem. When Europeans arrived in the southeast, the pines covered the coast plain from what is now the Virginia/North Carolina border into Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Estimates of the total size of this pine savannah range from 60 to 147 million acres. There are far fewer of the trees now, and only a tiny proportion of the remnant is old growth. An example: in 1607, there was an estimated one million acres of longleaf pine in Virginia alone; in 2005, there were some 200 individual trees.

Source: How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S. – JSTOR Daily, 2019-05-16