DEEP to Conduct Prescribed Burns at Matianuck Natural Area Preserve, Suffield Wildlife Management Area, and Machimoodus State Park
Prescribed Burning Is a Valuable Tool for Maintaining Habitat and Plant Diversity, While Also Benefitting Native Wildlife Species
(HARTFORD)—The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) plans to conduct prescribed burns at three locations this spring, weather and conditions permitting. The areas include Matianuck Natural Area Preserve (NAP) in Windsor, Suffield Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Suffield, and Machimoodus State Park in East Haddam.
Prescribed (controlled) burns are an important forest management practice. DEEP plans and administers a number of controlled burns annually for various purposes, including maintaining grassland and shrubland habitat for species in decline in Connecticut from a loss of farmland and early successional habitat. Fire can also assist in maintaining pitch pine sand plain forest (which is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in the state), and to assist with forestry objectives such as oak regeneration, which is disturbance-dependent. Controlled burning is a valuable tool for natural resource managers to maintain habitat and vegetative diversity.
The three prescribed burns DEEP plans to conduct in the coming weeks (exact dates dependent on weather and conditions) include:
Matianuck Natural Area Preserve: The prescribed burn planned for Matianuck NAP will occur on a 1.5-acre section of the 3.5-acre grassy sand dune within the NAP. The dunes at Matianuck represent some of the last remaining sand plain habitat in Connecticut and managing these areas by prescribed burning is an effective way to sustain and enhance their value to wildlife, including the rare species found at the area. The measure also ensures these habitats persist as they would have naturally with periodic low-intensity fires. Public access to the preserve will be closed during the burn.
Suffield Wildlife Management Area: Suffield WMA is managed by the DEEP Wildlife Division mainly for wildlife conservation, focusing on grassland birds, as well as for wildlife-based recreation. Prescribed fire will occur within a 117-acre portion of the WMA, 49.5 acres of which are scheduled to be burned in 2022. The overall goal is to sustain and enhance sandplain grassland habitat, an under-represented natural community that many Species of Greatest Conservation Need rely on to survive and reproduce, including grassland nesting birds like the upland sandpiper, grasshopper sparrow, eastern meadowlark, and savannah sparrow. All of these grassland birds are on Connecticut’s Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species List.
Prescribed fire is an effective management tool to maintain and enhance grassland habitat. Following the prescribed burn at Suffield WMA and the resulting consumption of aboveground grasses and thatch, new vegetation will grow soon after and the entire site will be revegetated. Expected long-term changes to vegetation within burned areas is an increase in native warm season grasses and a decrease in woody invasive plants. The project site is divided into 6 burn units, and only a portion of the total area will be treated in a given year to maintain refugia habitat for wildlife. Depending on the post-fire response, portions of the WMA will be burned on a 2- to 10-year frequency to continue sustaining and enhancing grassland habitat conditions. Suffield WMA will be closed to visitors during the days of fire operations; pre-burn notification will be given to the Town of Suffield and signage will be posted on-site.
Machimoodus State Park: Five distinct burn sites, encompassing a total of 15.5 acres. The purpose of this burn includes suppressing above-ground vegetative growth; to restore a native, critically endangered, ecologically significant pitch pine-scrub oak ecosystem that would enhance important wildlife habitat; and to allow native warm season grasses to expand and persist which would enhance wildlife habitat. Public access to most of the park will be closed on the day of the burn.
Early successional habitats, including grasslands, are the most lacking stage in Connecticut at present. Most of the state consists of older forests estimated at 90-130 years of age or is otherwise developed. Grassland habitat is limited in our state, as most abandoned farmland has either been developed or allowed to revert to forest. Prescribed fire is one tool that can effectively maintain this habitat, without having to use chemical control of invading plants. Fire also returns nutrients to the soil and encourages the native grass species to flourish and return immediately and densely.
The prescribed burns are being led by the DEEP Forestry Division, with assistance by other fire-trained personnel in DEEP’s Wildlife, State Parks, and Support Services Divisions.DEEP Forestry Division personnel will employ a detailed operational and safety plan to conduct the burns to ensure effectiveness and safety. Plans have been communicated to municipal leaders and fire departments for each of the towns. Areas will be closed on the days of the different burns and signage will be posted. The public may observe rising smoke as a result of the burns and weather conditions will be monitored to minimize impact in the local areas.
Forest management is the application of scientific and technical principles by a certified professional in order to meet specific goals. It takes many forms, but usually involves periodic treatments or practices which are done to change forest conditions. Forest management uses a variety of practices, such as prescribed burns and timber harvesting, to provide a balance of important societal and ecological benefits. More information about forest management in Connecticut is available here.