Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wildlife Commission Supports Prescribed Fire at Linville Gorge

In a press release published earlier in the week, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission announced that it was joining other agencies and organizations in support of the controversial plan to use prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and adjacent National Forest System lands.

The Wildlife Commission stated that it supports a proposal the U.S Forest Service is considering to use prescribed fire on nearly 16,000 acres in and near the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on the Grandfather Ranger District.

The Wildlife Commission said that prescribed fire would greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, such as those that occurred in 2007, and help restore the fire-adapted ecosystem of the area. They note that prescribed fire will be particularly beneficial to fire-adapted plant species such as the rare Mountain Golden Heather that are at risk of disappearing due to decades of fire suppression. Wildlife species will also benefit from the controlled ignitions and less intense heat of a prescribed fire, as opposed to wildfires, which burn at a much higher intensity and have potential for large-scale spreading to adjacent private lands.

“Linville Gorge is the most fire-adapted area in the Grandfather Ranger District, meaning that its plants and wildlife need fire to thrive,” said Gordon Warburton, mountain area ecoregion supervisor for the Commission. “Fire once occurred naturally across North Carolina. Low-intensity fires burned every few years, fueled by grass, leaves, pine straw and other forest debris. Fire suppression over the past 100 years has left the gorge susceptible to wildfire,and the effects can be devastating for the region.”

The Wildlife Commission points out that using prescribed fire outside of the growing season will also promote and maintain a thick understory of berry-producing plants and grasses that provide key habitat and forage for wildlife. Critical mountain pine and oak habitats that need periodic low-intensity fires to maintain and promote regeneration, will also be favored through the use of prescribed fire, helping to restore the fire-adapted ecosystem native to this landscape. Past wildfires that have occurred in parts of this wilderness area have burned at high intensities during growing seasons, harming the forests, sterilizing soils, and providing areas for non-native invasive plants to establish.

For more information on hiking in the Linville Gorge, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

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