The Central Pine Barrens Commission started a prescribed burn of sections of the Long Island Pine Barrens this week to reduce potential hazards and promote its healthy growth.
The commission released on Monday a $1.25 million plan for prescribed fire operations, the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Prescribed fire operations are underway in the Rocky Point Barrens State Forest, with the David Pine Barrens State Forest and Otis Pike Pine Barrens State Forest tapped for operations later this month.
Training has been made possible by the plan and is taking place in Calverton, so that fire crews “have the necessary training to conduct prescribed fires in the Central Pine Barrens,” said Polly Weigand, the commission’s science and stewardship manager.
The commission’s wildfire task force identified the need for a controlled burn program 25 years, following wildfires that scorched forests. In 1995, two fires burned through at least 7,000 acres in Rocky Point and Speonk, damaging dozens of homes before firefighters were able to put them out four days later. In 2005, a fire in Manorville and Ridge burned over 1,100 acres during drought-like conditions.
According to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, wildfires could range from 73 to 895 annually across the state.
Controlled fires help burn up the natural fuels that accumulate over time, reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires, which build up after long periods of no fire at all. However, the prescribed burning is expensive, time consuming and difficult to do in densely populated areas.
In the Central Pine Barrens, authorities believe that prescribed burns will also reduce southern pine beetle outbreaks and keep tick population densities down, preventing disease and health risks to visitors.
“Prescribed fire is the most ecologically appropriate, economically feasible and beneficial tool available to address the important issues outlined in the prescribed fire management plan,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar in a press release.