Appendix B: Development of a Prescribed Burning Plan

An emerging challenge within the pine barrens is sustaining short interval fire dependent ecosystems. These efforts will encounter significant difficulties; however, avoiding treatments creates various consequences as well (United States Department of Agriculture 1993). For example, without these efforts, the pine barrens may:

A good monitoring program must be a part of any fire management program in the Central Pine Barrens in order to ensure that the effects of prescribed burning are completely understood. The time span necessary to assess ecological effects may be as short as a few years for ecosystems that burn often, but may be as long as decades for systems that burn less often. A detailed monitoring program should be outlined in the fire management plan that will be developed.

There already exists a wealth of wildland fire experience and knowledge from throughout the country and New York State to draw upon. At some locations, prescribed fire has been used as a management tool for years by various agencies and organizations. Issues that need to be resolved for the Central Pine Barrens include establishing the locations of the burn units, discerning the funding, analyzing the potential liabilities, acquiring the approvals for the fire management plans and the training of staff. These issues should be resolved during development of the fire management plan.

The concept of fire management must be strengthened by increasing prescribed burn expertise while maintaining strong fire suppression capabilities. Prevention, suppression, hazard reduction, prescribed fire, and fire rehabilitation within the pine barrens must be aligned to complement one another. The areas of wildfire suppression and prescribed burning are more fully discussed below. Although they are presented under individual headings, they are interrelated.

Management ignited prescribed fire or controlled burning (referred to as prescribed burning in this Plan) is the controlled application of fire to wildland fuels under specified environmental conditions. This allows the fire to be confined to a predetermined area and at the same time produces the intensity required to attain planned resource management objectives.

There are primarily three types of prescribed burning that might be utilized in the pine barrens, including research burns, management burns, and training and demonstration burns. An individual prescribed burn often has multiple benefits with several objectives. For example, ecological objectives typically include the maintenance or restoration of fire dependent communities and fire adapted species, or research on the ecological effects of wildland fire. Land management objectives for the same prescribed burn may be to reduce the available fuel source and simultaneously improve wildlife habitat conditions and access.

A sound fire management program using prescribed burning can reduce the severity and size of wildfire by reducing fuel loads, such as fallen needles and branches, standing dead wood, and accumulating living biomass containing volatile oils and waxes. It is essential that such a program also be sensitive to ecological factors as well. Specific types of fires are appropriate for management use. The exclusive use of low intensity backfires applied as a fuel reduction burn may result in the "homogenization" of the vegetation, a simplification of the plant communities and a loss of biodiversity. (These fires have been used in the New Jersey Pinelands). The range of natural variability should be an essential component of any fire regime that is ultimately proposed for the pine barrens. This includes variability of frequency, intensity, size, pattern, seasonality, and type of fire applied (i.e., crown versus surface fire).

Before a prescribed burn program is developed, a comprehensive fire management plan should be prepared. A fire management plan should present the ecological and land management objectives, justify these objectives, consider alternatives to burning, describe the research and monitoring plan, analyze weather patterns, present fuel models, discuss fuel reduction, wildfire policies, smoke management, safety issues, and legal considerations. The Protected Lands Council is responsible for the development and implementation of a fire management plan. A detailed list of plan components is presented under "Recommendations" below.

Upon completion, the fire management plan is subject to legal review, and should be distributed to all potentially interested agencies, including but not limited to fire departments. One or more public meetings to present and discuss the plan should be held. A public education and notification program should be carried out. Fire related information must be provided to the public and responsible agencies' decisionmakers, enabling an informed judgement to be made concerning prescribed fire (USDA Forest Service 1993). This dialogue should present a scientifically sound message about fire's ecological role.

Safety is of paramount importance with any prescribed burn program. Each prescribed burn is carried out only under carefully prescribed conditions of wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and humidity. Such burns are carefully planned and timed, with firebreaks prepared ahead of time. All prescribed burns are conducted by a trained and qualified crew, supervised by a prescribed fire incident commander (also referred to as a "burn boss" or "fire leader") who has additional training and experience in fire management. Volunteer fire departments are not expected to carry the burden or to provide resources including personnel or equipment. However, fire departments should participate in the planning, and in the event of an escape and the prescribed burn being declared a wildfire, the local fire chief could be called upon to serve as Incident Commander.

At present, only the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy have individuals trained to carry out prescribed burns in the pine barrens. Ideally, an interagency program should be developed to train town and county personnel, and coordinate fire management activities (see Recommendations below).

The prescribed burning program for the Central Pine Barrens should begin slowly and carefully, with ample time for public review and careful analysis of all issues. The first burns should be small, with a low level of complexity. The prescribed burn program can grow only as the comfort level grows. Safety constraints, logistical difficulties and expenses are likely to limit prescribed burns to only the most ecologically critical areas for many years to come. Sensitive resources and areas will also be identified where prescribed fire may not be an appropriate management technique, thus limiting its use in these areas.

A prescribed fire management program should be planned and implemented to maintain pine barrens communities and their rare species, and to protect public safety by reducing the hazards in strategic locations. The Protected Lands Council is responsible for the planning and implementation of the fire management program.

After the completion of a comprehensive fire management plan, it is recommended that an overall fire management plan be developed for the protected public lands of the entire Central Pine Barrens. The overall plan should be followed by detailed plans for each burn location.

Specific recommended actions are as follows:

B.1 Develop a comprehensive fire management plan carrying out the ecological and land management goals of the Plan. This would be for public lands in the Core Preservation Area.

The fire management plan should include the components shown in Figure B-1. This outline is similar to that used by the National Park Service in their fire planning process for individual parks (National Park Service 1990).

Figure B-1: Suggested structure of a fire management plan
I. Introduction
A. Purpose of the Wildland Fire Management Plan 
B. Environmental Compliance 
C. Authority for Implementation of the Wildland Fire Management Plan
II. Compliance with Central Pine Barrens Commission Policy
A. Enabling Legislation 
B. Resource Values to be Protected 
C. Role of the Fire Management Plan 
D. Fire Policy History
III. Ecological Description of Area
A. General 
B. Natural Resources 
C. Climate 
D. Vegetation 
E. Wildlife 
F. Air and Water Quality 
G. Cultural Resources 
H. Social and Economic Resources
IV. Fire Management Policy
A. Agencies' Policies 
B. Central Pine Barrens Policy 
V. Fire Management Strategies
A. Suppression 
B. Management Ignited Prescribed Fire
VI. Fire Environment
A. Fire History 
B. Fire Effects 
C. Fire Behavior and Fuel Types 
D. Annual Fire Weather Cycle
VII. Fire Management Responsibilities
A. Fire Management Responsibilities 
B. Budget and Fiscal Management 
C. Interagency Coordination 
D. Fire Qualifications and Training 
E. Fire Management Zones
VIII. Wildfire Management Program
A. Fire Prevention Program 
B. Presuppression 
C. Fire Behavior Predictions 
D. Fire Detection 
E. Fire Suppression 
F. Minimum Impact Suppression and Rehabilitation 
G. Fire Records and Reports
IX. Management ignited Prescribed Fire
A. Prescribed Fire Program 
B. Prescribed Burn Plan 
C. Prescribed Burn Objectives 
D. Prescribed Burn Operations 
E. Documentation and Reporting 
F. Fire Monitoring 
G. Fire Effects Monitoring 
H. Prescribed Burn Critique
X. Air Quality and Smoke Management Guidelines
XI. Sensitive Resources
XII. Fire Research and Monitoring
XIII. Public Safety
XIV. Public Relations
A. Information 
B. Education
XV. Fire Critiques and Annual Plan Review
A. Fire Critiques 
B. Annual Fire Summary 
C. Annual Fire Management Plan Review
XVI. Appendices
A. References Cited 
B. Definitions 
C. Notification Plan 
D. Escape Fire Situation Analysis 
E. Cooperative Agreements 
F. Species List 
G. Regulatory Compliance 
H. Prescribed Burn Plan and Prescription Outline

B.2 The Protected Lands Council should consult with the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commission, the County Fire Marshal, and local fire departments when developing the comprehensive fire management plan.

B.3 After the comprehensive fire management plan is written and approved, then fire management plans and prescriptions for individual sites or units should be developed satisfying the same set of criteria, in area specific detail.

B.4 The potential of establishing the Central Pine Barrens as a New York State Fire District as per Environmental Conservation Law Article 9-1109 should be examined. This should be examined as a possible source of assistance to local fires departments' training and other needs, especially those departments having, or likely to have, considerable protected lands within the Core Preservation Area.

B.5 The current wildfire training program should be expanded and improved. This will be coordinated through the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commission with assistance from other agencies as needed.

Due to the already heavy demands placed upon volunteer fire departments for maintaining structural fire fighting and emergency medical qualifications, this training might be best geared for specific individuals within departments who would specialize in wildland fire management. This might require the development of a wildland fire specialist or coordinator position within individual departments.

B.6 A prescribed fire training program should be developed through coordination among the Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commission, the volunteer fire departments, The Nature Conservancy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Support for this training by Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commission will be important to get interested town and county personnel involved with the prescribed fire program.

The goal of this training program will be to develop an interagency base to support prescribed fire activities in the pine barrens. Increasing prescribed burn expertise will not only require training, but will need to be followed up with exposure to actual prescribed burning or substituted with wildfire suppression experience on a limited basis.