The Guide to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Communications

Prescribed burning is FIRE “applied in a skillful manner, under exacting weather conditions, in a definite place, to achieve specific results.”

Printed on the inside cover of the Introduction to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems, the sentence sets the tone for the revised guide developed by U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists Tom Waldrop and Scott Goodrick and published by SRS in 2012.

The guide is designed to help resource managers plan and execute prescribed burns in southern forests and grasslands. Originally written in 1966 by Merlin Dixon from the Forest Service Southern Region, the guide had gone through numerous revisions, the last in 1988 by Southern Region fire manager James Lunsford and SRS research forester Dale Wade, who also worked as a forester for the Region.

Our goal was to update this extensively used resource to include the best available research and current management practices,” said Waldrop, Fire Ecology Team leader for the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science, who is retiring the end of this month. “The previous versions emphasized prescribed burning on the Coastal Plain. This version adds information on burning in grasslands and on steep terrain.”

The publication opens with an overview of the history and ecology of fire and reasons for using prescribed fire to manage forests and grasslands in the South, with an emphasis on environmental effects. Using numerous photographs and illustrations, the guide first introduces the reader to the weather and fuel condition choices key to controlling the fire and meeting the objectives of the burn.

Managers can choose weather conditions that will give them the fire intensity they want in relation to topography and fuel conditions,” said Goodrick. “We added information from the latest research on smoke modeling to help with more precise smoke management, which is of increasing importance as human populations expand into areas where prescribed burning is needed.”

Following chapters include detailed information on firing techniques, preparing and implementing a written plan, evaluating the burn, and setting up coordination. The guide features sample plans, checklists, single page overviews of general rules and red flag situations, a glossary, and an extensive bibliography of suggested readings, many new to this version of the guide.

Access the guide online.

For more information, email Tom Waldrop at

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Posted in Fire, Restoration

Developing a Network of the South’s Experimental Forests

New project on road drainage structures to link multiple resources

by Sarah Farmer, SRS Science Communications
Many of the sites of present-day experimental forests started out as demonstrations on how to reforest a South where land lay in waste from overuse. Photo by Ewing Galloway, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Many of the sites of present-day experimental forests started out as demonstrations on how to reforest a South where land lay in waste from overuse. Photo by Ewing Galloway, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For decades, scientists on the 19 experimental forests of the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) have investigated research questions that are as diverse as the experimental forests themselves. Research topics include forest management and regeneration; restoration of wildlife and plant populations; watershed management; and the effects of pollution, climate change, and timber harvest.

Linking the experimental forests into a network could help answer new questions, and SRS scientists at the Center for Integrated Forest Science recently organized a meeting to discuss opportunities for shared research across multiple forests. For the first time ever, 30 SRS scientists from 12 different experimental forests met to discuss these opportunities.  Along with SRS were colleagues from Northern Research Station, Forest Service National Forests (Region 8), Forest Inventory and Analysis, and the Agricultural Research Service’s Long-term Agroecosystem Research Network (LTAR).

“A functional network of experimental forests is critical for addressing natural resource challenges in the 21st century,” says Stephanie Laseter. Laseter is a biological scientist at SRS, and is also the Experimental Forest Network lead.

“This network will link sites strategically across geographic domains and environmental gradients,” says Laseter. “Forest Service experimental forests, university forests, and state forests represent a wide range of forest types and management regimes and, through a network, can answer larger scale questions.” A network can also facilitate collaborations and increase efficiency.

Erosion – which can dump sediment into streams, and harm aquatic ecosystems – was among the topics discussed at the meeting. Many experimental forests, as well as national forests, are crisscrossed by gravel roads containing culverts and other drainage structures. Some culverts may be overdue for maintenance, while others may be too small for extreme rainfall events.

SRS scientists have begun a research project that will assess the capacity of these drainage structures, as well as their vulnerability to extreme precipitation, on multiple experimental forests. Although the project is in the early stages, it has already led to collaboration with the Department of Transportation and National Forest System engineers.

“A successful network requires collaboration,” says Laseter. “We are developing new partnerships, and also expanding on our existing partnerships.” For example, Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and SRS have partnered since 1967, but as a result of the Experimental Forest Network, are working together to create a new demonstration forest on campus. The demonstration forest will provide research opportunities while engaging private landowners on best management practices for managing their forests.

“Over the coming months, we will continue to engage with new partners to describe the initiative and discuss approaches for building a network across the Southeast,” says Laseter.

For more information, email Stephanie Laseter at

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Posted in Experimental Forests, Forest Watersheds

Regenerating Shortleaf Pine in the Southern Appalachians

SRS e-Research Paper documents the success of the fell-and-burn method

by Zoё Hoyle, SRS Science Communications
Shortleaf pine tree with immature cones. Photo by Frank Bonner, courtesy of

Shortleaf pine tree with immature cones. Photo by Frank Bonner, courtesy of

On June 14th, at the annual meeting of the Southern Group of State Foresters, Arkansas State Forester Joe Fox and U.S. Forest Service Southern Region Deputy Regional Forester Ken Arney announced the release of a long-awaited five-year plan developed by the Shortleaf Pine Initiative to stem the rapid decline of regional short­leaf pine forests.

Shortleaf pine forests once covered an estimated 70 to 80 million acres across a range that stretched from New Jersey down to Florida then west to eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Over the last 30 years alone, this extensive shortleaf pine ecosystem has lost over 50 percent of its former acres, with most of the significant decline taking place east of the Mississippi River.

Shortleaf pine has been displaced by oak and other hardwoods as a result of extensive timber harvesting, land clearing, insect outbreaks, and wildfire followed by decades of fire exclusion.

Since its start as a working group in 2010, the Shortleaf Pine Initiative has held numerous workshops in states across the former and current range of the species. Feedback from workshops held in the Southern Appalachian region showed an increasing interest in restoring shortleaf pine, especially to mixed hardwood stands. Discussions about restoration techniques often included references to the fell-and-burn method developed over 30 years ago by U.S. Forest Service researchers and national forest collaborators.

The fell-and-burn regeneration technique was developed as a low-cost method to establish planted pines among hardwood sprouts and involves clearcutting a hardwood stand, felling the remaining hardwood stems in the spring, and then burning the site in the summer to support hardwood regeneration. Burning is followed by planting pine seedlings at a wide spacing (10 by 10 feet).

In the early to mid-1980s, Forest Service researchers and silviculturists applied the fell-and-burn technique to stands in the Sumter National Forest Andrew Pickens Ranger District, which is located in the mountainous western edge of South Carolina. To help guide new restoration efforts, the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) recently published an e-Research Paper that documents the long-term success of the fell-and-burn method on the sites on the Andrew Pickens.

Though there are studies that evaluated the long-term establishment of loblolly pine stands using the fell-and-burn method, none have existed for shortleaf pine. Tom Waldrop, SRS Station team leader and research forester who collaborated on the fell-and-burn studies in the 1980s and later, and Lauren S. Pile, then a postdoctoral research fellow at Clemson University, set out to evaluate the success of the regeneration method for shortleaf by revisiting plots on study sites in the Andrew Pickens where it was used 34 years ago to establish mixed shortleaf pine-hardwood forests on stands formerly dominated by hardwoods.

“Each step was designed to reduce competition from hardwood sprouts and allow pines the opportunity to establish and grow,” said Waldrop, who founded the Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists (CAFMS) to promote communication about fire ecology and management in the Appalachian region. “These mixed-species stands increase economic incentives, promote forest resiliency by supporting greater species diversity, and add other ecological benefits such as wildlife habitat.”

The researchers measured the trees on the original sites using the same plot arrangement, although exact plot locations could no longer be found. They found shortleaf pine basal area (the amount of a given area occupied by a cross-section of trees and stems measured at their base) ranged between 32 and 54 percent. Shortleaf pine densities ranged from 241 to 253 trees per acre, representing a survival of 53 to 56 percent of the pines planted 34 years earlier.

“Our study indicated that the fell-and-burn technique was effective for establishing shortleaf pine on sites with moderate levels of soil fertility and moisture, where fast-growing hardwood sprouts were competitive and present at high densities,” said Waldrop. “On the sites we studied, shortleaf pine had an advantage over the hardwoods after 34 years. They were taller, with larger diameters, and occupied a considerable proportion of the total stand even with large densities of hardwoods.”

Read the full text of the SRS e-Research Paper.

For more information, email Tom Waldrop at

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Posted in Fire, Longleaf Pines, National Forests, Restoration, Southern Pines
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