MARION, NC Feb. 12 — The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is joining other agencies and organizations in supporting the use of prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and adjacent National Forest System lands.
The Wildlife Commission supports a proposal the U.S Forest Service is considering to use prescribed fire on nearly 16,000 acres in and near the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on the Grandfather Ranger District.
The prescribed fire on U.S. Forest Service land would greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, such as those that occurred in 2007, and help restore the fire-adapted ecosystem of the area. Prescribed fire will particularly be beneficial to fire-adapted plant species such as the rare Mountain Golden Heather that are at risk of disappearing due to decades of fire suppression. Wildlife species also will benefit from the controlled ignitions and less intense heat of a prescribed fire, as opposed to wildfires, which burn at a much higher intensity and have potential for large-scale spreading to adjacent private lands.
“Linville Gorge is the most fire-adapted area in the Grandfather Ranger District, meaning that its plants and wildlife need fire to thrive,” said Gordon Warburton, mountain area ecoregion supervisor for the Commission. “Fire once occurred naturally across North Carolina. Low-intensity fires burned every few years, fueled by grass, leaves, pine straw and other forest debris. Fire suppression over the past 100 years has left the gorge susceptible to wildfire,and the effects can be devastating for the region.”
Using prescribed fire outside of the growing season will also promote and maintain a thick understory of berry-producing plants and grasses that provide key habitat and forage for wildlife. Critical mountain pine and oak habitats that need periodic low-intensity fires to maintain and promote regeneration, will also be favored through the use of prescribed fire, helping to restore the fire-adapted ecosystem native to this landscape. Past wildfires that have occurred in parts of this wilderness area have burned at high intensities during growing seasons, harming the forests, sterilizing soils, and providing areas for non-native invasive plants to establish.
The use of prescribed fire will help restore the ecology of the area and reduce accumulated fuels. This will allow future fires — both natural and prescribed — to maintain the landscape more safely.