Pennsylvania Game Commission Schedules More State Game Land Burns

Pennsylvania Game Commission Prepares For Year Two Of Controlled Burns On SGL 176
Year One results in reducing wildfire concerns for nearby communities and takes steps to preserve Barrens unique habitat.

Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

STATE COLLEGE, PA –-( Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced they plan to begin the second phase of controlled burns on the Scotia Barrens on State Game Land 176 in Patton, Ferguson and Halfmoon Townships, Centre County, to improve habitat conditions within this unique ecosystem. This year, the Game Commission has scheduled using prescribed fire on four different burn units totaling 630 acres when weather conditions are appropriate between March 21 and May 6.

Originally outlined in public meetings and meetings with news media in the area in March of 2009, the Game Commission’s use of prescribed fire in the area last year has already reduced the risk of a wildfire to surrounding developed communities and improved habitat for unique Barrens plants and animals.

“If weather conditions cooperate, we will begin phase two of our habitat improvement project on State Game Land 176 that involves the use of prescribed fire,” said Bill Capouillez, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director. “Last year, we used prescribed fire on three parcels totaling about 300 acres near the periphery of the surrounding community. This reduced the fuel load closest to the nearby homes, and created a large safe area for our interior burns this year.”

In reiterating the importance for this controlled burn, Capouillez said that the Scotia Barrens ecosystem, which is a scrub oak/pitch pine barrens, depends on fire to regenerate itself.

“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,” Capouillez said. “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.”

To begin the preparation, agency employees have coordinated with all other jurisdictional agencies on the protection of any known cultural resources, as well as plants and animals designated as having a higher status of special concern. To alert the public, a series of news advisories will be issued closer to the time the burn will be conducted, including a news advisory on the day of the burn.

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 from March 21 to May 6. 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 burn areas to escape in advance of the fire,” Capouillez said. “We had a woodcock flush from an empty nest on Scotia last year and return to the burned area to lay eggs and successfully hatch a brood. 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.

“Once again, 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, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will partner to conduct this burn, as well as to provide equipment, materials and support.”

Capouillez said the agency has also 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 majority of the smoke disappears by the end of the first day, but a small amount of smoke will be generated by slow burning trees inside the units for up to three days.

“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.”

“We also would like the public to remain out of the burn areas while there is still smoke being generated, and on any windy days, because of the large number of gypsy moth killed trees. Last year we had mountain bikers back in the area while we were still mopping up the burn, which creates safety issues for both the bikers and the firefighters.”

Capouillez noted that the Game Commission has conducted prescribed burns on more than 2,000 acres of State Game Lands over the past four 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 prescribed 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 (, 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.