Just as certain plants

 need fire to 

succeed, the animals

 that depend 

on those species 

benefit from fire as well.


It was my first prescribed
 burn. After weeks of training, and
 months of anticipation,
I was finally on the ground — drip
 torch in hand — ready
 to apply fire to restore the mixed
 pine-hardwood forests
at the edge of the Blue Ridge
Mountains, on the
 Grandfather Ranger District of
Pisgah National Forest.

Joining the Forest Service only two months
 earlier, I
 had a mainly academic knowledge of fire's
effect on
 plant and wildlife communities. As the
for the Grandfather Restoration Project,
part of the
Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration
 I had to come up to speed with the on-the-
 reality of prescribed fire use quickly.
In the Forest Service's Southern Region,
fire is a key tool for management and
restoration of
fire-dependent ecosystems. The
Grandfather Ranger
District, with its south-facing piney
slopes, has a
historic fire return interval of 5-7 years.
Today, the
return interval is 10-fold the historic
averaging 50-70 years across the

As I lit the fire that early March morning, igniting
thick leaf litter and dense shrubs that
with years of fire suppression, I couldn't help
 but wonder:
What happens to the wildlife after the fire?
 the fuels with scorched earth is unnerving
 to those who
are not familiar with fire as a restoration tool,
 with the
aftermath often being likened to a
The reality is much different. Just as
certain plants
 need fire to succeed, the animals that
depend on
 those species benefit from fire as well.

"Prescribed fire burns at varying intensities across the
 landscape, creating abundant soft mast, grasses and
forbs, a reduced shrub layer, and small canopy gaps,"
said Pisgah National Forest Wildlife Biologist Chris
 Williams. "These conditions provide foraging, nesting,
 and escape cover for a variety of game and non-game
 terrestrial wildlife."
With the evolving use of prescribed fire as a tool for
restoration, it is critical to study the effects of fire on
 the communities we are looking to restore. Traditional
 fire studies often focus on vegetation.
The participants in the Grandfather Restoration Project
decided take it one step further — to directly study
wildlife use in sites that are treated with prescribed fire
compared with untreated sites.
Working collaboratively, wildlife specialists from
Pisgah National Forest, the North Carolina Wildlife
 Resource Commission, and The Nature
 Conservancy designed a cutting-edge study using
wildlife cameras.

Re-entering the prescribed burn unit just four months
 after the fire, wildlife cameras in tow, I could see the
changes in vegetation. From a so-called "moon-scape"
 just after the burn, a lush herbaceous layer had
appeared, carpeting the forest with blueberries and
Using 50 camera points over a six-week period in July
and August, we were able to study which wildlife
species are using our forests, and what habitats they
prefer. Cameras captured deer, bears, turkeys and
 other wildlife.
"I was very encouraged by the effects of the burn,"
 Williams said. "While the results of the study have
not been fully analyzed, the photos can provide land
 managers with population estimates
 " predator-prey ratios."

Early data indicates a higher use of the burn unit by
wildlife when compared to the unburned unit. More
solid results will be available as the data is analyzed
over the next several months.
Lisa Jennings is a Natural Resource Specialist with
 the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North
 Carolina. Reprinted with permission from www.