USDA Forest Service

Northeastern Research Station


Northeastern Research Station
11 Campus Blvd.
Suite 200
Newtown Square, PA 19073

(610) 557-4017
(610) 557-4132 TTY/TDD

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News Release

USDA Forest Service

Northeastern Research Station

Contact: Your PAO, Lynn Campbell Wingert, 610.557.4253, Jane Gamal-Eldin, 610.557.4229


NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA: June 25, 2002

A new study getting underway in New Jersey's Pine Barrens may help reduce the risk of fire in that valuable and volatile ecosystem.

USDA Forest Service researchers are setting up a project that will change the way fire danger is rated to suit the Pine Barrens' special conditions. The project is being funded for nearly $2.2 million over a 5-year period through the National Fire Plan, Research and Development program.

John Hom, deputy manager for the Northeastern Research Station's (NERS) Global Climate Change Research Program, is leading the study. Hom works out of the Station headquarters in Newtown, Square, PA, near Philadelphia.

The study is being set up on the Silas Little Experimental Forest in New Lisbon. Maris Gabliks, New Jersey state fire supervisor, and John Dighton of Rutgers University are among the research partners.

Fire officials nationwide use a rating system posted on signs along the road to warn of fire danger and to advise the public when extra precautions are needed. The "low" to "extreme" danger ratings work well in most parts of the country, but don't hold true in the Pine Barrens.

Rain, for instance, usually significantly lowers the fire danger. In New Jersey, however, said Hom, "It can pour down rain in the morning, and by afternoon a fire will flare up."

This is especially alarming in an area like southern New Jersey, where numerous communities border wooded areas. Hom estimates that communities in at least 30 townships from Cape May to Long Branch are at risk from fire on adjacent wildlands.

"Wildland/urban interface fires are now the fastest growing cause of property loss in the nation", said Hom.

The study will refine the National Fire Danger Rating System, tailoring it to fit the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

The Pine Barrens, as anyone who has visited there can see, is an unusual ecosystem [see box, below]. Its sandy soil is highly porous, giving it a low water-holding capacity. Woody debris and tree litter that falls from the prevalent pine and some oak trees is also dry and tends to decompose slowly. The result is a build-up of volatile fuel, ready to burn at the drop of a match or touch of an ember.

Rating Fire Danger: 2

Using towers and meteorology stations already on the ground on the Silas Little, Hom and his associates will gather baseline data on the climate and characteristics of the Barrens' ecosystem. They will monitor changes that occur after prescribed burns. They will estimate the potential fuel - living and dead - and measure its moisture content. Useful models of these complex interactions will be developed.

In addition, said Hom, the study will contribute to our understanding of air pollution and climate change in the area.

The experimental station at the Silas Little will be fixed up and brought back into full use for the study. Once an active experimental forest, the site now contains some NERS experimental plots and the Pinelands Field Station developed by Rutgers for ecological research.

The study's benefits will extend further than the Pine Barrens, said Hom. "The methods we develop can be applied to similar regional fuel types to improve fire predictions there," he said. Both Long Island and Cape Cod have pine barrens ecosystems similar to New Jersey's.

Quick Facts about the Pine Barrens:

  • Covers 1.1 million acre
  • Occupies 22% of New Jersey's land area
  • Largest body of open space on Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston
  • Designated America's first National Reserve
  • 190,000 acres burned in 1963
  • 1,000,000 acres burned in 1923

USDA Forest Service - Northeastern Research Station
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:26 CST

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