Beth Shockley, Public Affairs, 302-739-9902
Prescribed burn at Cape Henlopen State Park continues for a second day to make way for ecological restoration
LEWES (Feb. 28, 2012) – For the second day, DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation and the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are teaming up to conduct a prescribed fire on 24.2 acres in a remote area of Cape Henlopen State Park. The burn began yesterday, but had to be put on hold when humidity levels dropped too low. About 12 acres of the southernmost unit is being burned today, completing the prescribed burn.
“This will be the end of it today,” said Rob Line, Environmental Stewardship program manager with DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation. “Most of what’s left is phragmites - about 75 percent - and the rest is pine.”
A prescribed fire, unlike a wildfire, is an intentionally ignited fire set within limited and carefully defined weather conditions identified in a prescribed burn plan. Factors like fuel type, wind speed and direction, and air temperatures are critical factors considered in the plan.
Like yesterday, officials expect most of the smoke to travel out over the ocean, but Line said Rehoboth Beach residents might smell some smoke if winds shift to the south.
The main goal of the prescribed fire is to reduce the risk of forest wildfires by burning fine fuels such as pine needles, dead twigs and small dead branches, leaving larger woody debris unburned. Additional goals include reducing the overgrown shrub layer, to open the canopy to support state rare shade-intolerant herbs and grasses, and to consume dead phragmites canes that had been sprayed the previous fall, in order to enhance piping plover foraging habitat for young plovers.
The prescribed burn plan is designed to maximize safety and control, to effectively disperse smoke away from human populations and to accomplish the ecological objectives of the prescribed fire including habitat restoration. DNREC staff has been considering this measure for some time but the urgency of it was highlighted during site visits for planning the proposed Gordon’s Pond trail through the area. The burn will greatly improve habitat for vulnerable species in the vicinity of the new trail and help ensure public safety.
“This forest canopy needs to be opened up so that we can ensure the preservation of native species of rare plants, grasses and herbs along with the trees,” Line said. “This burn will start the restoration of these rare habitats.”
The prescribed burn is being coordinated by the Delaware Forest Service, which will provide key staff and conduct the burn. Today, 12 Forestry and Parks staff members are on site for the burn, along with four tankers of water.
Vol. 42, No. 62