• Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the national park.

    Great Smoky Mountains

    National Park NC,TN

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    During spring, park roads may close due to ice, especially at high elevation where wet roads can freeze as temperatures drop at night. For road status information call (865) 436-1200 ext. 631 or follow updates at http://twitter.com/SmokiesRoadsNPS. More »

Fire Effects

Issue 8 > Meet the Managers > Fire Effects

Pine forest pre-fire.

A pine forest pre-controlled burn. Watch the trees at the right and center of the photo for reference below.

NPS photo.

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.

Forest two years after fire.

One year after the controlled burn.

NPS photo.

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.

Forest one year after fire.

Two years after the fire, an understory is starting to return, but trees have room to grow.

NPS photo.

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.

See what role these other teams play in putting fire on the ground: Engine crew and Wildland Fire Module.

Did You Know?

Scientists estimate that 100,000 different species live in the park.

What lives in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Although the question sounds simple, it is actually extremely complex. Right now scientists think that we only know about 17 percent of the plants and animals that live in the park, or about 17,000 species of a probable 100,000 different organisms.