Department of Environmental Studies
Wildfires have historically influenced species composition in pine barrens of the northeast. Today many fires are suppressed which has led to pine barrens existing as old stands of pitch pine that have been invaded or are in the process of being successionally replaced by less fire tolerant species. This research addressed whether a lack of fire is a threat to the pitch pine-scrub oak community of Black Mountain, Dummerston, Vermont. A natural resource inventory of the pitch pine-scrub oak community was conducted to specifically assess the degree to which non fire prone species are encroaching on the pitch pine-scrub oak community by focusing on the composition, structure, and disturbance history. Researching the forests composition and growth dynamics as it relates to the fire history of the area is fundamental to understanding the role that fire has played in maintaining the ecosystem. This natural community is threatened by fire suppression efforts and competition from neighboring forest species that negatively affect the pitch pine growth and reproductive potential. Continued fire suppression with no other management may result in the loss of the pitch pine -scrub oak community on Black Mountain. Thus, localized high intensity and severity prescribed burning would promote regeneration of pitch pine and increase the long-term viability of the mountain's communities. It is also important to note that surface fires under the existing pitch pine stands may increase hardwood stem density since low intensity burns do not remove enough leaf litter and duff to promote pitch pine regeneration, whereas surface fires at high frequency may eliminate hardwood re-sprouting and/or establishment over time, while promoting pitch pine regeneration from the existing seed source.