The passage of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 lead to the delineation of the Central Pine Barrens. The Long Island Pine Barrens is recognized as one of the natural treasures of the northeast and represents a globally unique ecosystem that is formed on extensive glacial deposits along the coast. The Central Pine Barrens is home to thousands of plant and animal species, some of them endangered or threatened with extinction or extirpation. The majority of the Central Pine Barrens overlies an area where deep aquifer recharge occurs. Groundwater in this area is considered of relatively pure quality, warranting special protection as an important drinking water resource.

The information in this chapter was obtained from Volume 2 of the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan (Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, 1995). Copies of the Plan are available through the Central Pine Barrens Commission(1). This chapter presents a synopsis of ownership and development patterns along with existing environmental conditions (climate, topography and ecosystems) in the Central Pine Barrens. This information provides an understanding of the natural systems in the Central Pine Barrens that can affect firefighting capabilities such as topography and slopes and the unique ecosystems that have an interrelationship with fire. The information on ownership and development patterns illustrates the increase in the wildland-urban interface that has occurred within the Central Pine Barrens that affects firefighting resources.


The Long Island Pine Barrens estimated to have originally covered 250,000 acres on Long Island, has been reduced to approximately 100,000 acres(2). Article 57 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law created a Core Preservation Area of approximately 50,000 acres that is largely undeveloped and a comparable sized Compatible Growth Area that generally surrounds the Core Preservation Area. The largest portion of the Central Pine Barrens area lies within the Town of Brookhaven with the rest extending into the Towns of Riverhead and Southampton. Smaller areas are also located within the northern portion of the Villages of Quoque and Westhampton Beach. Figure 2-1 depicts the Core Preservation Area and Compatible Growth Area boundaries, overlaid with corresponding fire district boundaries.


Information on ownership and development patterns within the Central Pine Barrens is obtained by examining demographic and land use information for this area.

2.3.1 Demographic Information

Demographic information in this section includes information on population, population density and housing. Estimates of population and housing units were based on estimated percentage allocations of population by census tract within the Compatible Growth Area and Core Preservation Area of the Central Pine Barrens.

Population Estimates

The 1990 population of the Central Pine Barrens area was estimated to be 57,207. The total population of the Central Pine Barrens represents four percent of Suffolk County's population while occupying 17 percent of the County's land area. The number of residents in the Central Pine Barrens has increased dramatically over the past thirty years, from 12,525 in 1960 to 57,207 as of 1990. Eighty seven percent of the population in the Central Pine Barrens area is located in the Town of Brookhaven with 11 percent located in the Town of Southampton and two percent in the Town of Riverhead. Ninety-three percent of the Central Pine Barrens 1990 population total reside in the Compatible Growth Area with seven percent in the Core Preservation Area.

This growth in population and resultant increase in the suburban wildland interface zone has affected the fire service community and firefighting resources available. Many fires now occur in interface areas where the potential for personal injury and structural damage are increased.


In 1990, there were 23,180 houses in the Central Pine Barrens. Over 90 percent of the homes were located in the Compatible Growth Area. The balance were located in the Core Preservation Area. As expected, most of the housing units in the Central Pine Barrens are concentrated in the Compatible Growth Area in the Town of Brookhaven.

An estimated 885 housing units (approximately four percent) are seasonal. Nearly one quarter of those seasonal homes are estimated to be in the Core Preservation Area. The presence of seasonal housing adds to the population estimate for the Central Pine Barrens during peak seasonal times (usually the summer season). At an estimated four persons per household in seasonal homes, the population in the Central Pine Barrens can be expected to rise by about 3,500 (about six percent) at peak seasonal times. Guests in year-round housing units, motels, and campsites also add to the seasonal population.

Click here for Figure 2.1:  "Central Pine Barrens Wildfire Task Force Fire Districts"

2.3.2 Land Use

Information concerning land use provides basic data on land characteristics and the various activities that occupy land in the Central Pine Barrens area.

The major land uses in the Central Pine Barrens are vacant land, comprising 35,260 acres (38 percent) and recreation and open space comprising 25,031 acres (27 percent). Less significant uses include residential (11,599 acres or 12 percent), institutional (10,410 acres or 11 percent) and agricultural uses (4,601 acres, or 5 percent). Approximately half of the acreage in institutional use is located within Brookhaven National Laboratory's boundaries.

The remaining six land use categories are less significant in terms of acreage. These categories are transportation, commercial, utilities, industrial, surface waters, and waste handling and management, which account for less than seven percent of the land use in the Central Pine Barrens.


The climate in Suffolk County is mild due to its coastal location. Climatic conditions vary throughout Suffolk County with changes in topography and distance from the coasts. Temperature extremes in the summer are modified by the cooling ocean breezes that form off the south shore of Long Island (Suffolk County Planning Department, 1984). The average temperature in Suffolk County is 71.9F in the summer and 32.4F in the winter (LI Business News, 1997). Relative humidity is a rough index of the moisture capacity of the air that varies with the season. The average annual relative humidity is 70 percent (LI Business News, 1997). The prevailing wind directions in Suffolk County are northwest and southerly that reflect the dominance of cold arctic air masses in the winter and cooling ocean breezes in the summer (Suffolk County Planning Department, 1984). The average annual wind velocity in Suffolk is 9 miles per hour (LI Business News, 1997).


The elevations within the Central Pine Barrens area range from mean sea level where the area borders Flanders Bay in the Town of Southampton, to a high of 295 feet at Bald Hill, which is on the Ronkonkoma Moraine just northwest of the Eastern Campus of Suffolk County Community College (SCCC), in the Town of Southampton, south of the Town of Riverhead business district. Generally, elevations are lowest in the areas where recent geologic deposits are found and highest in the moraine areas.

Slopes within the area of the Central Pine Barrens where outwash plains and recent deposits can be found are generally even to gently rolling, and range from 0 to 15 percent. The moraine areas are very hilly and uneven containing slopes that range from 15 to 35 percent in many areas.


The Long Island Central Pine Barrens region is a complex mosaic of pitch pine woodlands, pine-oak forests, coastal plain ponds, swamps, marshes, bogs and streams. Characteristic of the Central Pine Barrens natural communities is their evolution in the presence of frequent fires.

The dominant tree species in the frequently burned areas is the pitch pine (Pinus rigida), which is highly fire adapted and somewhat fire resistant. Pitch pine woodlands are characterized by widely spaced pitch pine. This spacing allows abundant sunlight to penetrate the open tree canopy allowing dense growth of the shrubby scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia), and smaller heath species such as black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum and V. angustifolium), sheep laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

In less frequently burned areas various species of tree oaks codominate, and the tree canopy is more closed. Under these more shaded conditions, scrub oak and heath shrubs decline in importance (Reiners 1965, 1967). The herbaceous layer tends to be fairly sparse but is more developed in sunlit conditions. Characteristic species of the herbaceous layer include bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), and Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica). Located in freshwater wetlands are red maple (Acer rubrum), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) and Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides).

1. The Central Pine Barrens Commission office is located at 3525 Sunrise Hwy., 2nd Floor, in Great River. Copies of the Plan may be obtained there, examined at the onsite library there, or viewed at numerous libraries located in and around the Central Pine Barrens.

2. As of July 12, 1998, the total acreage of the Central Pine Barrens area was increased to approximately 102,500 acres due to the signing into law a legislative bill (Assembly Bill 11132 and Senate Bill 7611) that altered the New York Environmental Conservation Law Article 57 (the state pine barrens legislation) to include the federally owned and managed Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge into the Central Pine Barrens. This increased the size of the Core Preservation Area to approximately 55,000 acres.