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Fire Management and Carbon Sequestration in Pine Barrens Ecosystems

Photo of A prescribed fire in a pitch pine stand in the Pinelands of New Jersey.  Prescribed fires consume primarily forest floor and understory vegetation, resulting in rapid recovery following burns. USDA Forest ServiceA prescribed fire in a pitch pine stand in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Prescribed fires consume primarily forest floor and understory vegetation, resulting in rapid recovery following burns. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service scientists quantified consumption and accumulation of the forest floor and understory vegetation during and following prescribed fires in upland forest stands in the New Jersey Pinelands. Their findings suggest that prescribed burning in upland pine-dominated forests has little effect on long-term forest carbon dynamics at the landscape scale.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Clark, Ken 
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 873

Summary

Prescribed burning is a cost-effective option for reducing hazardous fuels and ensuring regeneration of fire-dependent species in pine barrens ecosystems. Forest Service scientists quantified consumption and accumulation of forest floor and understory vegetation during and following prescribed fires in upland forest stands in the New Jersey Pinelands. The amount of fuel consumed during prescribed fires could be predicted from initial fuel loading, which accounted for 75 and 73 percent of the variation in forest floor and understory consumption, respectively. Prescribed fires released an average of 4.7 ± 1.4 tons carbon per hectare (1 hectare = 2.47 acres) from the litter layer and understory, equivalent to approximately 2 to 3 years of sequestered carbon in undisturbed upland forests. Recovery of understory foliage following prescribed burns was rapid, while stems increased more slowly with time. Consumption and recovery of canopy foliage in pine-dominated stands was dependent upon prescribed burn intensity. During typical rotation intervals of 5 to 8 years between prescribed burns, treated forests accumulated an estimated 3.0 to 8.4 tons carbon, approximately 33 to 58 percent of estimated carbon accumulation in undisturbed upland forest stands over the same time periods. Research suggests that prescribed burning in upland pine-dominated forests has little effect on long-term forest carbon dynamics at the landscape scale.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Michael Gallagher
  • New Jersey Forest Fire Service
  • Nicholas Skowronski
 

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