The Fire Effects Crew monitors the short- and long-term effects of fire on native plant communities. To understand how fire has changed a landscape, they must first carefully document the plants, animals, and other characteristics of the burn site before fire affects it. They create study plots—small, rectangular areas that they mark with (nonflammable) metal posts so they’ll be able to find the same spot after the burn—and document every single species they find within each one. They also note the health of the vegetation in the plots—whether native plants thrive, which plants are growing together in a community, and the overall number of different plants, which indicates diversity.
The fire effects crew travels to controlled burn sites throughout the Southeast region, and often helps prepare the site by moving fuel, cutting down hazard trees, and taking fuel (e.g. leaf litter) moisture and weather readings. They may help ignite the fire using drip torches, and are on scene to help control the fire’s edges and monitor the fire’s behavior.
Immediately after the fire, and in the seasons after the controlled burn, the fire effects crew returns to the study plots and documents which plants have regrown and how the overall plant community has responded. They carefully document each site with photographs to show change over time.
Did You Know?
An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park was begun in 2001. Elk once roamed the Smokies, but were eliminated from the region in the mid 1800s by over-hunting and loss of habitat. Other animals successfully reintroduced to the park include river otters and barn owls. More...