Press release shared by the U.S. Forest Service, on Jan. 6:

The USDA Forest Service announced on Jan. 6 that it will conduct a one-day prescribed burn on 33 acres of forest in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in January, February or March.

The prescribed fire is part of a multi-year research study by the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, a silviculture research unit of the Southern Research Station. The project will help researchers better understand the effects and benefits of prescribed fire in mountain-hardwood forests.

The Forest Service will conduct the one-day prescribed burn on National Forest land in Buncombe County. Agency personnel will perform follow-up measures the following two days.

The Forest Service’s National Forests in North Carolina will plan and supervise the prescribed burn. The agency will notify the public when the decision is made to conduct the burn. The Forest Service will close area trails and roads the day before the prescribed burn.

“The safety of the public and firefighters is the number one priority,” said Riva Duncan, fire management officer with the National Forests in North Carolina. “The public is asked to heed signs posted at trailheads and roads and to stay away from burn sites and closed roads and trails.”

The prescribed fire will occur when environmental conditions permit; wind and humidity are key factors in fire behavior, safety and smoke control. The Forest Service is required to meet state air quality requirements and will conduct smoke modeling to reduce the possible effects of smoke emissions. The proper personnel and equipment will be on site during the prescribed burn.

Scientists at Bent Creek will compare the effects of the dormant season (January – early March) prescribed burn with a growing season (June-July) burn to learn how timing affects hardwood regeneration, herbaceous plants, fuel consumption, reptile and amphibian populations, and breeding bird communities.

The agency will burn three units this winter and three other units in the summer. The remaining units will not be burned to serve as a control or reference for assessing how fire affects hardwood ecosystems. The overall study site consists of nine adjoining units, about 12 acres each, totaling nearly 120 acres. The Bent Creek study includes repeated prescribed burning at approximately three-to-five year intervals, depending on weather, fuels and the availability of personnel.

Following loss of the American chestnut in the 1920s, oaks dominated most central hardwood forests, providing acorns for wildlife and high-quality timber. In the Southern Appalachians, however, as mature oaks die they may not be replaced by younger oak trees. Prescribed fire has been used to increase oak regeneration in some areas of the South, but there are few long-term studies measuring its benefits in mountain-hardwood ecosystems, and even fewer studies examine the effects of prescribed fires conducted in the growing season. This scientific study in Bent Creek Experimental Forest promises to inform and guide hardwood ecosystem restoration efforts in the Southern Appalachians.

Historically, fire was used by Native Americans and settlers to maintain an open understory, but in the 1930s, forest fires began to be viewed as destructive and were suppressed whenever possible. Fire suppression increases wildfire risk as fuels (woody debris and shrubs) accumulate.

For more information on prescribed fire, visit the U.S. Forest Service website

For more information about Bent Creek Experimental Forest’s research on prescribed fire and upland hardwood ecosystem restoration, contact Julia Murphy at 828-667-5261 ext. 104 or

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Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at

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