209. Benefits of Fire

Pinelands once dominated the plains along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines. These forest

ecosystems can survive heat, drought, and often fire. In fact, fire plays an important role in

maintaining the biological richness of these plant communities and many other plant habitats

around the world.

Look around you for longleaf pines, which have thick, fire-resistant bark. Their unusually long

needles also resist fire and help shield young trees from damage.

Longleaf pine savannas typically experience low-intensity fires every three to five years. Often

caused by lightning, these fires reduce the likelihood of dangerous, more damaging high-intensity

fires by burning off accumulated plant material.

Low intensity fires thin out plants at ground level, release nutrients, and keep aggressive shade

plants at bay—creating a wealth of biodiversity. With as many as 50 species per square meter, the

variety of plant species in the pinelands is among the highest in North America.

Native Americans used fire to clear brush and make lands more productive. For many decades,

fire suppression was the standard land management practice and resulted in large, catastrophic

fires stoked by too much accumulated plant material. Modern land managers understand that

prescribed burns—rather than total fire suppression—allow fire-adapted ecosystems to thrive.