REGION: State burns to prevent wildfires

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
New Jersey State Forestry Services seasonal prescribed burning program as part of the state’s efforts to reduce wildfire risks has been underway.
“Prescribed burning is part of a planned strategy that the state uses to reduce accumulations of undergrowth, fallen branches and downed trees that can act as tinder and increase the severity of wildfires, making them difficult to control,” Lynn Fleming, a state forester, said in a press release. “Prescribed burns help protect lives and property and, at the same time, improve the overall health of our forests.”
An average of 1,500 wildfires damage or destroy 7,000 acres of New Jersey’s forests, according to its website.
The controlled burning program, implemented by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, is an important part of the state’s strategy to reduce risk of wildfires that could threaten property or lives, according to a press release.
“Prescribed burning is just one practice that State Forestry Services relies on to maintain overall forest health,” Ms. Fleming said in the press release. “When combined with insect and disease treatments, habitat restoration and carefully executed management plans, our forests will provide a greater diversity of habitats for wildlife and create safe recreation opportunities for residents.”
Prescribed burns, which are part of New Jersey’s Statewide Forest Resource Assessment and Strategies, are carried out by highly trained and experienced firefighters under exacting weather conditions and with the necessary support equipment.
Prescribed fires generally are conducted during the winter months to minimize the amount of smoke produced and when weather conditions tend to be safer for controlled fires, according to a press release.
Prescribed burns have been taking place throughout the month in parts of Cumberland, Burlington, Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties.
March 25, a prescribed burn was conducted by at the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park in South Brunswick and the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area near the Walnford Road area of Upper Freehold Township, according to a post on the New Jersey Forests Facebook page.
According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection website, the winter and spring prescribed burn season for prescribed burning for state and private lands was extended to April 1 in Divisions B and C (areas south of the Raritan River) and until April 10 in Division A (areas north of the Raritan River). Private lands prescribed permits still are being issued although time is short.
Residents in areas where burns are taking place may expect to see smoke.
For more information about New Jersey’s prescribed burning program and where burns are expected to be conducted, contact the State Forestry Services at 609- 292-2977 or “like” the State Forestry Services Facebook page at www.facebook.com/newjerseyforests.
The Forest Fire Service, part of the DEP’s Forestry Services, expects to burn about 10,000 acres of forests and grasslands this season. These fires burn brush, leaves, needles and debris, but do not reach the canopy of the forest or cause significant tree loss as wildfires do.
They improve forest health by removing thick undergrowth and competing non-native trees that can harm the overall health of the forest, according to the press release.
Weather conditions and other factors play a significant role in determining how much notice can be provided to the public about burns, according to the press release.
“Firefighter and public safety are our top priorities as we implement these burns,” state Fire Warden Bill Edwards said in a press release. “Roads in areas where burns are taking place are clearly marked. Motorists are advised to observe the posted precautions and slow down.”
These burns help reduce forest fire risks prior to entering the prime wildfire season, which, in New Jersey, generally begins in early spring when leaves and debris are abundant, tree cover is sparse, and conditions tend to be windy, according to a press release.
While the principal reason for prescribed burning is wildfire hazard reduction, the practice also has numerous secondary benefits, including improving habitat for wildlife, recycling nutrients into the soil, enhancing the appearance of the forest and improving the overall health of woodlands by removing dense undergrowth.
Most of these burns will occur on state-owned property, such as state forests and wildlife management areas as well as other public lands, according to a press release.
During the burns, firefighters employ best practices to manage smoke impacts, but nearby residents and forest visitors should expect temporary smoke in the vicinity of any prescribed fire activity.
New Jersey State Forestry Services advises residents that, when in doubt about the source of the smoke or fire, call 911 or 877-WARN-DEP (877-927-6337).
For more information on wildfires in New Jersey and a list of contact numbers for regional Forest Fire Service offices, visit www.njwildfire.org.
For more information on New Jersey’s Statewide Forest Resource Assessment and Strategies, visit at www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/forest/docs/NJFSassessment.pdf.