Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Figure 1: Pre-thinning picture of cedar-encroached prairie along the Natchez Trace Parkway. NPS photo by Brad Weisshaupt.

Where's the Prairie?

Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

During 2005, a remnant of a rare prairie plant community was identified along the Natchez Trace Parkway, within the city of Tupelo, Mississippi. Due to fire suppression, the area was heavily encroached with small-diameter eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) (Figure 1). The situation was undesirable because of the increased fuel load and threat of wildfire, and because the prairie was disappearing due to the shade of the cedar trees.

Figure 2: Amanda Callis and fuels management specialist Shawn Nagle work to remove cedar trees. NPS photo by Lisa McInnis.

This prairie plant community is found on the unique and chalky soils of the Black Belt region of Mississippi. The species that dominate this prairie include indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) white prairie clover (Dalea candida), scaly blazingstar (Liatris squarrosa) and prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum).

In order to reduce fuel loading and to promote the health of the plant community, it was necessary to carefully remove the cedar trees. Removal was done by the Natchez Trace Parkway fire suppression and fire effects crews using chainsaws. Work was performed during the spring and summer of 2006 (Figure 2). The cedars were moved in small bunches to a chipper. Trees were then chipped and the resulting wood chips were moved offsite. Although this process was time-consuming and demanding, it was decided that limiting the use of mechanized equipment within the site would result in minimum impact to the fragile ecosystem. Moving the chips offsite, as opposed to disbursing them, promoted regrowth of the prairie species (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Post-thinning picture of cedar-encroached prairie along the Natchez Trace Parkway. NPS photo by Amanda Callis.

During fiscal year 2008, this site will be burned and fire effects crews will continue to monitor the site. Because more of this prairie habitat has been identified in the area, future plans include thinning and burning of additional acres. This project was one of the first thinning and burning restoration projects for the Parkway in recent history.

Contact: Lisa McInnis, Fire Ecologist
Phone: (662) 840-7572