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.