The first prescribed fire ever at Gettysburg National Military Park took place October 30, and was an unqualified success. National Park Service (NPS) fire specialists burned 13 acres of fields on the historic Snyder farm, in the southern portion of the battlefield. The park is testing whether prescribed fire can reduce the encroachment of woody species in open fields on the battlefield, helping preserve historic landscape features that affected the fighting of the battle, an important goal of the park’s General Management Plan. The fire also removed hazardous fuels from the area and served as a valuable training opportunity for firefighters many of whom are new to prescribed fire operations (Call to Action #30 – “Tools of the Trade”).
The prescribed fire was started shortly after 1 p.m. and was completed in two sections just before 4 p.m. NPS staff monitored air quality and smoke impacts as well as visibility on nearby roads. To prepare the area, park staff set up vegetation monitoring plots and mowed the perimeter of the area. Prior to ignition, the perimeter was wetted with water.
The overall objectives are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here, perpetuate the open space character of the landscape, maintain wildlife habitat, control invasive exotic species and reduce shrub and woody species components while providing for public and employee safety. Burning in the fall, immediately before shrub and woody species move into dormancy, reduces the plants energy reserves and diminishes vigor and growth potential the following spring. If successful, prescribed fire would reduce herbicide use and impacts in the park. Success factors include ease of implementation, effectiveness towards meeting resource objectives, degree of impact on visitation, and cost effectiveness.
The National Park Service Wildland Fire Management Program funded the prescribed fire. Staff from Delaware Water Gap NRA, Gateway NRA, Monocacy NB, Catoctin Mountain Park, C&O Canal NHP, Shenandoah NP, and NE Regional Office joined together with the park to complete the burn. Personnel from the PA Bureau of Forestry assisted in burn operations and personnel from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Gettysburg Fire Department were on hand to observe their first prescribed burn and to gain an understanding of the process. The burn provided formal training assignments for two Engine Boss trainees and One Firing Boss trainee and one Fire Effects Monitor Trainee.
Gettysburg area news media and the public were very interested, and reporters, park friends and visitors stayed to watch the entire operation.
In the spring of 2014 Gettysburg NMP will gather public comments for an environmental assessment for a park fire management plan.
by Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant