Ranger educates on benefits of controlled woodland fires

Published 2:11 pm Monday, August 4, 2008

By Staff
Small, intentional blazes control problem species, prevent bigger fires
Staff Writer
If Goose Creek State Park doesn’t get a good fire soon, it’s likely to have a bad fire eventually, said park superintendent Kelli Thompson at an educational presentation Sunday.
Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, Thompson said.
She said it thins out underbrush, providing better habitat for many types of wildlife and is essential to the proliferation of some species.
For example, the cones of longleaf pines won’t germinate unless they’re exposed to fire, she said.
The pines once covered vast amounts of acreage in eastern North Carolina, but the stands were used as a part of the state’s early economy, and were replaced with loblolly pines, which grow faster and don’t require fires.
The loblolly’s independence from fire is important because, beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Americans began working to suppress all forest fires, Thompson said.
It came as a reaction to severe fires that destroyed a number of towns and vast swaths of forest, she said.
The tendency was compounded by factors like the animated film “Bambi” and the U.S. government’s Smokey the Bear ad campaign.
(She added that Smokey is “buff” in recent campaigns, and has apparently been hitting the gym since his debut in the 1940’s.)
But that all changed in the 1980’s, she said, when fires ripped through Yellowstone National Park.
The nation expected the ecosystem there to be devastated, but it actually recovered wonderfully, demonstrating new vim and vigor, Thompson said.
It was an event that marked a turning point in American forestry’s attitude to fires.
Now, Thompson is concerned that there hasn’t been a burn in Goose Creek in the last three years, and she’s working to become certified to run burns there herself.
She said the park needs to be burned to reduce the amount of fuel available to unplanned fires, to keep down the young loblolly pines and sweet gum trees in the understory, to help stimulate growth in the roughly 100 long-leaf pines still in the park and to eliminate habitat for pests like ticks.
To accomplish that, a fire needs to be managed to stay above ground and out of the treetops, she said.
Earl Barber, a logging safety consultant and retired contracts manager with Weyerhaeuser Company who attended the lecture, said he agreed with Thompson’s assessments of the forest’s needs.
Paul and Mary Helen Lankin live full-time in their recreational vehicle. They’ve been in the area for a while now, they said, and go to presentations at Goose Creek almost every Sunday.
The park will host a presentation on hummingbirds for children ages 3 to 5 at 10 a.m. Saturday and a presentation on animal habitat in the park for children ages 6 to 12 at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
A complete schedule of events is available at the park’s environmental education center.