Fire in the barrens

The inland pine barrens of the Albany Pine Bush is a fire-dependent and fire-maintained ecosystem. The plants and animals that constitute the barrens communities are not only adapted to survive reoccurring wildland fire, but many directly depend on the conditions only fire can create and maintain.

lupine seedling growing from ashes
Wild blue lupine sprouts after a prescribed fire

Historically, fire played a critical role in creating and maintaining the inland pine barrens of the Albany Pine Bush. This area once experienced multiple fires in any given year. Some were initiatied by lightning, others by the activities of Native Americans and later colonial settlers. Fires were set intentionally to increase fruit production in plants like blueberry and huckleberry, to manage habitat for hunting, and for agricultural purposes. Fires were also ignited accidentally by the activities of humans.

 

Due to urbanization and a strict policy of fire suppression since the early 1900's, fire was almost eliminated from the barrens. In the absence of fire, the canopy of trees began to close and grassy openings were crowded out by an overgrowth of plants in the understory.

Wildfire with large flames burning in the Pine Bush Preserve
Without regularly occurring fire, dead wood, leaf litter and brush builds up creating a dangerous potential for wildfire.

In effort to restore the ecological processes that originally shaped and maintinained the pine barrens, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission began a prescribed fire program in 1991.

Today, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission actively uses fire management in the preserve to maintain and aid in restoring what remains of this globally rare ecosystem as well as to reduce the risk of uncontrollable wildland fires.

Historic fires

It is estimated that a given spot within the pine barrens would burn on average every 10 years with most fires occurring during the spring when plant species are dormant or just beginning to leaf out. Large fires also occurred during dry summers.

Benefits of fire

Fire increases the availability of nutrients to plants and animals, aids in seed germination and maintains the open character of the barrens.  Fauna dependent on the plants and open structure of the pine barrens benefit in turn as fire maintains the habitats they require.

Surviving fire

Species and natural communities of the inland pine barrens are specially adapted to surviving fires. Some examples include the thick protective bark of pitch pine trees  and the massive root systems of scrub oak that sprout new growth only days after a fire. 

Prescribed Fire Video