ELKINS, W.Va. — The clear blue sky over the West Virginia mountains will be marked with rising smoke over the next few weeks. The first of several prescribed burns on the Monongahela National Forest got started this week in the Ramshorn section of the forest a few miles from Green Bank.
“The main reasons are to improve wildlife habitat and enhance the forest structure, age diversity, and improve oak regeneration.” said John Fry who coordinates the prescribed burns in the Monongahela National Forest.
The idea admittedly seems counter intuitive, given the anti-forest fire message the U.S. Forest Service has delivered to Americans for almost three generations. Fry admitted, their efforts to prevent forest fires have negatively impacted the positive impact a low temperatures fire will have on the landscape.
“There was an exclusion of fire back in the late 80’s. They wanted every fire put out,” Fry explained in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors.”We’re reintroducing fire and we’re getting a lot better results.”
Fire removes all of the leaf liter in the forest floor and gives acorns a better chance at sprouting from barren soil. It also burns off the fuel load which could lead to a much larger and hotter blaze in the event of an uncontrolled wildfire. Wildfires are detrimental to a forest and can kill large stands of timber and leave even more susceptible to disease. Under controlled parameters and with the watchful eye of a forester, the prescribed burns help in a myriad of ways.
But nothing happens in a vacuum, a lot of moving parts are in place as a prescribed burn comes together.
“We work for two years writing up a prescribed burn plan and meet with all of the natural resource specialists to develop the plan and the next year we implement,” Fry said.
There are several prescribed burns planed on the Monongahela NF in the next several weeks as weather conditions permit.
The areas planned for prescribed fires this spring include:
- Ramshorn – east of Green Bank in Pocahontas County
- Big Mountain – west and southwest of Cherry Grove in Pendleton County
- Brushy Mountain/Buskirk – north and south of Mapledale in Greenbrier County
- Middle Mountain – south of Huntersville in Pocahontas County
- Cheat Summit Fort – west of Huttonsville in Randolph County
- Pile-burning – various locations in Greenbrier, Pocahontas, and Pendleton counties