PA Game Commission Habitat Improvement Project Involves Controlled Burn On 95-Acre Portion Of Sgl 176
Project will address safety for nearby communities; preserve Barrens unique habitat.
STATE COLLEGE – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today outlined detailed plans for conducting a controlled burn on the Scotia Barrens on State Game Land 176 in Patton Township, Centre County, to improve habitat conditions within this unique ecosystem. Agency officials also covered how the planned prescribed burn will reduce the possibility of an uncontrolled wildfire impacting the surrounding developed communities.
In a briefing held today on SGL 176, agency officials explained that, if weather conditions cooperate, this one-day controlled burn will be conducted on a designated 95-acre parcel sometime between April 6 and May 8.
“The Scotia Barrens ecosystem, which is a scrub oak/pitch pine barrens, depends on fire to regenerate itself,” said Bill Capouillez, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director. “Prescribed burns are a tool used by the Game Commission to improve habitat and, in this case, will help maintain the ecological integrity of this unique habitat, which supports a number of wildlife and plant species of special concern.
“Also, this controlled burn will reduce the fuel load – the leaf litter, pine needles and twigs on the forest floor – that increases the chance of a catastrophic wildfire being ignited by a lightening strike or by a cigarette carelessly tossed on the ground. Because of decades of fire suppression, fuel loads are unnaturally high. Prescribed fire allows us to control when and where fire occurs rather than react to an emergency situation.”
Additionally, this 95-acre burn will serve as a firebreak for future prescribed burns that are planned for SGL 176 over the next few years. To begin the preparation, agency employees will use bulldozers to begin creating fire breaks, which will include existing roads, trails, herbaceous openings and dozed fire lines on March 9.
Capouillez noted that residents may see smoke emerging from the Scotia Barrens during the window of opportunity that the agency has targeted for the controlled burn, which is April 6 through May 8. This window was specifically selected to avoid peak incubation period for ruffed grouse (May 8), songbird nesting (May 14) and the birth of fawns (June 1).
“While we want to avoid the nesting, brooding and birthing cycles, the low-intensity heat from a slow, controlled burn will enable wildlife in the 95-acre area to escape in advance of the fire,” Capouillez said. “We have had experiences in the past where wild turkey nests have been known to be passed over by a controlled burn and the hen still returns to incubate the eggs. That would not be the result in the case of a wildfire.”
Capouillez emphasized that burning will be done when the weather is suitable to allow for a safe burn, including the rapid rising and dispersal of smoke. Also, he noted that the partnerships involved in this burn will ensure safety throughout the process.
“The Nature Conservancy has agreed to serve as ‘burn boss,’ and oversee the entire project,” Capouillez said. “Since controlled burning requires careful timing and a thorough knowledge of weather and fire behavior, highly trained fire personnel with either state or national certification from the Game Commission, The Nature Conservancy, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service will partner to conduct this burn, as well as to provide equipment, materials and support.”
Capouillez said that the agency has notified local elected officials, emergency management agencies, fire companies, local airports and local Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.
Optimal weather conditions will be chosen for smoke dispersal, but Capouillez noted that during these controlled burns nearby residents will certainly see and smell smoke. The smoke usually disappears by the end of the day.
“People become upset when there is smoke in the air if they don’t know the reason for the fire,” Capouillez said. “That’s why we’re trying to get the word out about prescribed fire. If we carefully plan and conduct a burn when weather conditions favor smoke dispersal, this reduces smoke-related problems. Dealing with a little bit of smoke now is infinitely better than trying to control a raging wildfire later.”
Capouillez noted that the Game Commission has conducted prescribed burns on more than 1,500 acres of State Game Lands over the past three years.
“Added benefits from this prescribed burn will be a temporary reduction in ticks, a reduction in exotic and invasive species, training for those who participate in prescribed burns and informing the public about the benefits of prescribe burns,” Capouillez said.
Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan cites fire as an important tool in managing certain habitats, including barrens, forests and grasslands, and for species of greatest conservation need. For more information, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on “Wildlife” in the left-hand column, click on “Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan.”
SGL 176 currently contains 6,231 acres in Ferguson, Half Moon and Patton townships.