Fire in the Pine Barrens


Dec 31, 1969
The fire that started Monday near a cranberry bog near Double Trouble State Park inconvenienced motorists on the Garden State Parkway and folks had to temporarily evacuate their homes, but the fire supposedly only burned, including back burning, about 1500 acres, a bit smaller than other fires that occurred in the Pine Barrens. This relatively small fire is a reminder of the state forest fire service's villigance and readiness. It also prompts me to think about management policies that will mitigate the spread of forest fires.

I remember someone from the NJ Forest Service explaining that the forest service has been encouraging property owners to thin out the woods close to buildings. Maybe this fire will get them to realize that a fire could come closer and be larger next time -- the woods and air could be dryer, the air temperature and wind could be higher, etc.-- and they would take the neccesary steps to manage land accordingly.

The article posted on the topic about thinning the forest to prevent catastrophic wildfires discussed a particular lumber contract where a section of land much larger than the recent forest fire was cleared. The article said that more lumber contracts in the Pine Barrens were planned. It's good that management of the Pine Barrens has taken this direction. Fire is nature's way to weed the woods. Between the controlled burns done during the winter and lumber contracts, humans can beat nature to the punch, proactively managing the forest, preventing damage to property and collecting revenue in the process.

Opps! I forgot to post the link to the article about this recent forest fire.


Dec 31, 1969
I wanted to modify some of my post but I couldn't. I didn't mention that, as it says at the top of the article I posted, a house was engulfed in flames and nine others were damaged. Maybe this is enough to get people to take preventative measures like thinning the woods near buildings. And yes, it still could be worse and it could happen to you folks who were spared the wrath of the fire.

Again, when humans employ controlled burns and timber harvests, we pick the time and place where the forest is going to be thinned out. If we just let "nature" take its course, homes and other things we may want to protect may be destroyed. Only in cartoons does fire decide exactly where it wants to go. In reality, the course of fire is dictated by natural forces, much of it out of our control. At least it's easy to control if steps are taken beforehand. Remember, an ounce of prevention...


Dec 31, 1969
I'm not comfortable with the concept of large scale timber harvesting for the sole purpose of protecting housing developments. The NJ Forest Fire Service staff recommending cutting or thinning vegetation near homes are usually refering to the immediate area near the buildings, and not the surrounding forests. These forests are held by private landowners, or by the general public, niether who should be held responsible for nearby developments placed in the potential path of forest fires. The prescribed burn program does help prevent and control forest fires, but does not provide the type of natural fire that results in the habitat required by many of the rare and endangered species that have evolved in the pine barrens and are treasured by many. But prescribed burning is a compromise, necessary if humans and forests will exist in close proximity. Going beyond that compromise, by clearing large area of forest is not in the best interest of the environment, or the general public that benefit from its protection. There is little commercial value in the timber stands on these upland areas of the pines anyway, other than limited use for pulp.
Just as those who choose to live on the barrier islands do so at the risk of hurricanes or storm floods, those who do so in the pine barrens live with the risk of fire. While this may seem like a callous attitude, open land is becoming increasingly scarece in this state, while homes are not. We must manage the remaining land with the utmost care and concern, not just for the plant and animal species that are found there, but for future generations of people who will derive benefit from them.


Dec 31, 1969
I agree that in an place like New Jersey, open space is needed and development must be restricted and when done, done wisely. But timber harvesting and controlled burns emulate what happens naturally and to act responsibly and to be a good steward these practices should be employed to protect homes that are in the Pine Barrens as well as maintain a healthy forest. Humans use science to lower the risk of damage to people and property from wildfire. I don't accept the philosophy that we should just let nature let its course and "preserve" nature at the expense of putting humans at risk.

This is the policy driven by the "leave it alone" philosophy which results in the kinds of things that Dixy Lee Ray describes in ENVIRONMENTAL OVERKILL/WHATEVER HAPPENED TO COMMON SENSE? In the book, Dr. Ray recounts a policy where the federal government destroyed a facility for disabled children in a national park in the name of keeping the purity of the wilderness. Now this is callous.

The news story about timber harvesting in the Pine Barrens, which is posted on the second page of the protecting communities from wildfire topic states that the particular harvest was 400 acres. And more are to come. Of course the total amount will be spread out over the vastness of the Pine Barrens, where needed, to emulate the areas that would have been created naturally before any humans arrived in the Pine Barrens. As some of you pointed out, open areas benefit certain kinds of wildlife as well as flora. This is not deforestation. The forest will grow back and when other areas grow old, they can be harvested. And so on and so forth. The forest isn't static, so it can't be strictly preserved. It's dynamic, as are the natural laws of physical science.

As one of you brought up, during the energy crisis of the President Peanut administration, people were allowed in to the public forest to cut oaks for fuel. This allowed the pines to flourish while eliminating some of the hotter burning tree.

Controlled burning compliments tree harvesting. I would think that a controlled burn would allow certain kinds of pine cones to open and sprout new growth as well as enrich the soil. This emulates the small, naturally occuring fires. Large, much hotter catastrophic wildfires scorch the pines and sterilize the soil, damaging the forest as well as burning up tremendous amounts of forest, as has happened to much of our national forests as a result of years of management by neglect.

The exclusive use of controlled burns to weed out forests has resulted in catastrophic wildfires, such as the one at Bandalier National Monument in New Mexico. There is a school of thought that finds fire the only acceptable natural thing allowed when using the forest. I remember hearing a few years back about a backpacker who had to use toilet paper when she excreted wastes in the forest. She didn't want to bury it so she burned it. Consequently, this triggered a catastrophic wildfire.

Backburning, that is burning the vegetation before it can burn during a forest fire, is something that can be misused. When I was on a fire in California several years ago, my crew leader told us that he thinks that the California crews wasted a lot of forest real estate by back burning when they didn't have to. The former forester in the Valley Forge, PA district echoed this sediment in an article he wrote for THE WOODLAND NEWS. BTW, do you know how many southern Californians it takes to screw in a lightbulb? Three. One to actually screw it in and two to share the experience.

Levity aside, I think the responsible use of timber harvests on private and public woodlands combined with controlled burns protects communities from wildfire and helps maintain the health of the forest. There were areas I noticed when I crossed Route 206 in Atsion and followed the trail that skirted the railroad tracts en route to Parkdale that could use a tree harvest and a controlled burn, where many small to medium sized trees were crowding each other out and the underbrush was getting thick. Maybe next winter?


Dec 31, 1969
Jeff, you gotta stop worrying about fire in the pines. Your comment that.."large, much hotter catastrophic wildfires scorch the pines and sterilize the soil, damaging the forest"...just is not true in the Pines. The following article says it better than I can:


Column By Michele S. Byers, Executive Director
New Jersey Conservation Foundation
June 12, 2002 - Volume XXXII, No. 22

It would be easy to view the recent burning of 1300 acres in New
Jersey's Pine Barrens as an environmental tragedy, but in nature's
unique way, exactly the opposite is true! Fire is an essential
ingredient in making the Pine Barrens what they are. In the long run,
development is a much bigger threat - doing far more intensive and
permanent damage - than wild fires.

Pine Barrens forests burn easily because they have dense underbrush
and dry, porous soil. At the same time, they are designed to both
survive and thrive with forest fires!

The dominant Pine Barrens tree is pitch pine, a fascinating tree
uniquely suited to thrive in frequently burned areas. Thick bark
protects pitch pines from fire damage, and their ability to generate
new shoots - even from fire-blackened stumps - means they can bounce
back quickly from major fire damage.

Fire also induces the pinecones of pitch pine trees to open and
release their seeds. In the "pygmy pines," over 90% of the cones will
not open until heated by fire. Fire also burns up the twigs and
branches on the forest floor and thins the canopy overhead, which
allows new seeds to reach the soil more quickly, and germinate in the
penetrating sunlight.

Open canopies of pine and oak trees, abundant sunlight reaching the
forest floor, cleared understory and rich, loose soil - are perfect
for drought-tolerant native grasses and perennial wildflowers. This
open habitat is known as Pine Barrens Savannah.

Since New Jersey has gotten better at controlling and even preventing
forest fires, Pine Barrens Savannahs have decreased, and a few species
- like low bush blueberry, black huckleberry and bracken fern - have
become the mainstay plants of typical Pine Barrens forests.

As Pine Barrens Savannah habitats dwindled, leaving fewer species of
plants and the animals that depended on them - including endangered
redheaded woodpeckers, bluebirds, bobwhites, various moths, assorted
butterflies like the frosted elfin butterfly, and numerous
prairie-type wildflowers can be found in the Pine Barrens.

So despite the apparent destruction of nature caused by voracious
forest fires, they are a key link in the chain of life that renews the
Pine Barrens! And it is ironic that as long we continue to build in
the Pinelands, we'll be forced to fight the fires, to preserve
property and lives.

As wildfires decrease, we will have to resort to creative forestry
projects to recreate Pine Barrens habitats like savannahs.

For example, in a plan approved by the Pinelands Commission, NJCF
stewardship staff and volunteers thinned approximately 40 acres of
forest in the "Dorothy Reserve" in the Pinelands of Atlantic County by
logging half the trees. The ground layer was raked and burned to
reduce the shrubs in the understory and loosen the soil to encourage
native grass and wildflower seeding.

Although early signs have been encouraging, only time will tell if
these methods will work in the long run. Success would mean expanding
populations of interesting and beautiful creatures like the buck moth,
red-headed woodpecker and many native wildflowers.

One thing IS guaranteed to work, though. Keep development out of Pine
Barrens. The forests will be safe from development, and the
developments safe from forest fires!

I hope you'll contact me at 1-888-LAND-SAVE or, or visit NJCF's website at, for more information about conserving
New Jersey's precious land and natural resources.

* * *


Dec 31, 1969
I'm not worried about fire in the Pines, Bob. The state forest fire department is on the ball and, as Michele Byers pointed out, the the naturally occurring savannahs that dwindled after people started fighting fires are being recreated through a wise management plan of logging and a controlled burn. This is the kind of thing that needs to continue. My point earlier was that property owners should take the advice of the forest fire department and thin the woods -- the way the Dorothy Reserve was.

When the forest is wisely managed, the risk catastrophic wildfire is greatly reduced. Burning the underbrush not only removes potential kindling for an out-of-control fire, but it enriches the soil, opens the pitch pine cones and provides habitat for certain kinds of critters. Again, this is wise management.

I agree that development is a threat to the Pine Barrens. It was pointed out in an article on the recent fires that as development occurs, resources to fight the fires are stretched, as they are not unlimited. The resources to manage the woods to prevent forest fires and also not unlimited. These resources should be used to maintain what is already in the Pine Barrens. I think what you were getting at, German, is that we shouldn't tax our resources to manage land just so developments can invade the Pine Barrens. I agree. We shouldn't compromise protection from wildfire for established dwellings and management of established natural areas to protect new developments.

Recreating savannahs and thinning the woods is not deforestation. Development is.

The Pine Barrens Commission has a good plan: To maintain a traditional use of the land such as logging (done responsibly), cranberry and blueberry farming, etc and to limit development. The short era where unneccesary restrictions that were put on logging in the Pine Barrens under the guise of endangered species evidently has passed and logging in the Pine Barrens is helping to maintain this treasure we all enjoy. Let's urge the Pine Barrens Commission to stick to its guns in keeping the developers from destroying this oasis in the desert of a busy, crowded state.