Photo Credit: Workshop attendees discuss how state agencies engaged residents in the town of Whiting, New Jersey, to plan and implement mechanical and fire treatments to reduce hazardous fuel adjacent to a retirement community. Neighborhood residents decided to become a Firewise U.S.A. Community. Photo by Wendy Fulks.
Last week I had the opportunity to join dozens of fire and land managers and research scientists from the Northeastern U.S. in the New Jersey Pinelands for a 2½-day workshop. Few people know about the natural treasure that is the Pinelands, a National Reserve that covers 1.1 million acres, or 22 percent of the land area of New Jersey.
Due to the nature and condition of the vegetation, and the influx of new residents, the wildland-urban interface problems in this region rival those anywhere in the country. Perhaps that is why Bill Brash (New Jersey Fire Safety Council) and I were invited to address the group about fire adapted community initiatives.
The workshop was sponsored by the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange, one of 15 Joint Fire Science Program regional consortia. Organizers wanted to promote an exchange of ideas and information about managing coastal pine barrens, and drew participants from Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Centuries of forest and fire management expertise were represented among workshop attendees. Themes included adaptive management, prescribed fire councils, state fire management policies, managing with a long-term view, facilitating burning on private lands, and fire adapted communities. Time and again, conversations turned to the need for public education and engagement, especially in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country, where many residents have little to no knowledge about forested landscapes.
The weather was ideal, so we spent a considerable amount of time in the field. Highlights included visits to managed forests on lands owned by Pine Island and Lee cranberry companies. I learned that a single cranberry bog can be worth half a million dollars, and fire can be both a threat as well as a friend to these sites. Water quality and fuel reduction are high priorities for the farmers we met; however, they were equally interested in being good stewards of the land that had been in their families for generations. The owners of both companies have been working with a private forestry company to use timber harvesting techniques and controlled fire to create more heterogeneous stands (Read about one success story here).
Most of the discussions centered on forest management questions, such as:
- Should/could New Jersey resource managers experiment with growing season burns to see if they can better meet objectives? (At present the state prohibits prescribed burns between about March 15 and October 31.)
- How can natural resource managers better engage public stakeholders who oppose active forest management?
- How can public and private forest owners cooperate better to manage forests, including meeting multiple objectives such as sustaining water quality, reducing hazardous fuels and increasing wildlife habitat?
As I write this, fire adapted community stakeholders from across southeast New Jersey are meeting in Barnegat Township to discuss strategies for engaging more communities in Firewise and Ready, Set, Go! I’m hopeful that the momentum created by these November gatherings will translate into greater and faster spread of FAC concepts across New Jersey and the Northeast.
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