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Skip Navigation LinksDNREC : News : Prescribed burn at Cape Henlopen State Park to make way for ecological restoration

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Contact: Beth Shockley, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

Prescribed burn at Cape Henlopen State
Park to make way for ecological restoration

 DOVER (Feb. 17, 2012) –  DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Agriculture’s Delaware Forest Service are teaming up to conduct a prescribed fire on 24.2 acres in a remote area of Cape Henlopen State Park. A date for the burn will be announced; it is expected to occur sometime between now and late March, depending on weather conditions.*

“For the last 100 years we’ve done everything to suppress fires,” said Rob Line, Environmental Stewardship program manager with DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation. “But the result is that some habitats have become rare, being smothered by overhead trees that prevent light from reaching the ground. 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. This burn will start the restoration of these rare habitats,” Line said.

A prescribed fire, unlike a wildfire, is an intentionally ignited fire 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.

The main goal of the prescribed fire will be 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 where they 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 improve public safety.

  “This is a prescribed fire for ecological restoration,” Line said. “Like a doctor would give you a prescription if you were ill, this area needs a prescription for a controlled burn,” Line said. “This carefully managed burn is another, more natural tool in our toolbox that we can use that ensures safety. We’ll save some trees and plants that are strategic, but burn others so that rare species can grow and thrive. If we’re successful we’ll see native shrubs and lush new growth by this summer.”

 The prescribed burn is being coordinated by the Delaware Forest Service, which will provide key staff and conduct the burn.   

According to Erich T. Burkentine, the Southern Regional Forester and Regional Fire Management Officer with the Delaware Forest Service,Prescribed fire is a widely used application on state forest land for restoration and site improvement efforts. The benefits far outweigh any negative perceptions of its use. I’m glad to see that our sister agencies are eager to introduce these beneficial practices back into their ecosystems. As a cooperative effort, this increases cohesion between the Delaware Forest Service and DNREC, and knowledge and experience are gained by all.”

DNREC’s Division of Parks and Recreation will identify burn areas and the limitations of the burn, and provide support staff before, during and after the burn.

*NEWS MEDIA: There will be a press conference on the day of the prescribed burn at 1 p.m. at the Biden Center in Cape Henlopen State Park. The burn event, and thus the press conference, is weather-dependent. The DNREC Public Affairs Office will alert the media as soon as possible via Media Advisory on the day the burn is scheduled to take place. After the press conference, media can take a half-mile hike to shoot video of the fire, conditions permitting. 

Vol. 42, No. 50

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