Fort Bragg takes ecosystem management seriously. An important part of ecosystem management on the installation is prescribed fire. What does this entail? Prescribed fire is a planned fire conducted to achieve specific objectives, which is very different than a wildfire. Fort Bragg’s ecosystem is dependent on periodic fire for health, conservation and increased productivity of the land.
On the installation, prescribed fire is used to reduce vegetation, or fuel, that could lead to large, uncontrolled wildfires. Prescribed burning is also used to promote the regeneration/germination of longleaf pine and many other plant species, control of hardwood understory, and to manage wildlife, including rare and endangered species. This method of vegetation control also creates an improved and safer training environment for our military.
Each year the installation creates a detailed plan for the areas to be burned, describing the management objectives for the burn. The plans for fire and smoke management, allowable weather conditions and personnel needs are all included in the installation burn plan, as well as plans for procedures in the event of changing conditions.
Trained forestry and natural resources personnel conduct prescribed burns across nearly 55,000 acres of training lands annually.
The bulk of the prescribed burns take place from December through June during favorable weather conditions. Most areas scheduled for prescribed fire have wide roads or trails called firebreaks, which are graded or cleared of vegetation to ensure that the fire does not leave the area.
Additionally, personnel use a variety of vehicles and equipment such as pumpers with water tanks, graders, tractor plows and an assortment of hand tools to ensure the burns are controlled. Burns are normally conducted when forecasted wind conditions will cause smoke to be blown away from major roads, buildings, housing areas and airfields.
Fort Bragg’s longleaf pine ecosystem is dependent on fire. Many plants and animals require fire to reproduce or thrive. Prescribed burns can reduce competition, release seeds and add nutrients to the soil, all which benefit these species. Prescribed fire also promotes beneficial plant species that support wildlife. Equally important, prescribed burning directly and indirectly supports the military mission and optimizes training conditions for Soldiers.
Without fire, the forest may develop a dense undergrowth of shrubs and young hardwood trees, which can grow into the mid-story of the forest canopy. These changes to the forest can make areas unsuitable for some species of wildlife. The red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally listed endangered species found on Fort Bragg, requires its habitat to be managed by regular fires. This is vital to its population management and the continued success of the RCW at Fort Bragg.
Other methods may be used to control undergrowth, however these methods — such as the use of herbicides or machinery — may be more expensive and sometimes detrimental to the environment.
In the absence of prescribed fire, fuel accumulation in the form of vegetation can lead to potentially dangerous and destructive wildfires. Prescribed burns reduce the fuel and consequently reduce the risk to people and property created by wildfires.
Smoke from wildfires is difficult to control, and it carries more pollutants than smoke from prescribed burns. Forestry personnel respond to about 250 wildfires annually which are normally smaller in size and easily controlled because of the prescribed burning program.
Fort Bragg coordinates with numerous internal and external stakeholders, including the North Carolina Department of Environment Quality and the North Carolina Forest Service, when conducting prescribed burns. Fort Bragg also notifies the public of prescribed burning activity via installation social media.
Prescribed burns are vital for managing Fort Bragg’s unique longleaf pine ecosystem, which provides an environment essential for the training our Soldiers today and tomorrow.
For more information on the prescribed burn program at Fort Bragg, contact the Forestry Branch at 396-2510.