Prescribed burning for vegetation management on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Fire is a cultural phenomenon. It is among man's oldest tools, the first product of the natural world he learned to domesticate. Since the 1970's, fire has been utilized extensively in forest management practices. This study was designed to compare prescribed burning in the fall or the spring with hand cutting to reduce the overall height of vegetation. Ten scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway were selected for treatment. The experiment is a randomized incomplete block design.

Four permanent transects were delineated in each unit for vegetation sampling. Four one-by-five meter plots were sampled on each transect for the species and number of root crowns in three height classes: less than one meter, one to three meters and greater than three meters. Vegetation sampling was completed before and after treatment. Rate of spread was determined by non-directional grid sampling. Flame length was measured at five points within the sampling grid and fire intensity was calculated.

Prescribed burning and hand cutting stimulate sprouting of existing vegetation. Repetitive burning is necessary to effectively control hardwood sprouting on the Parkway. Fire stimulated the herbaceous community and resulted in a significant increase in the species richness. Changes in soil characteristics were slight and did not degrade the site. Personnel costs were similar but burning required fewer hours of work. Decreases in the number of personal accidents and an expected decrease in the number of personnel required to successfully complete the burns favor the use of fire to control vegetation for forest vista management.