Grace says the 1998 Florida fires showed just how susceptible today's landscape is to severe burns. A century ago this region was dominated by open woodlands of longleaf pine, a fire-resistant species. Today, most of the longleaf pine woodlands have been replaced by planted stands of other, more commercially valuable species such as slash pine and loblolly pine, which are more susceptible to fire.
One of the goals of the interagency research team was to assess the value of prescribed burning for reducing timber losses from severe wildfires. The 1998 fires were of such intensity that even some areas that had been recently treated with controlled burning experienced heavy tree mortality. "But overall," says Grace, "prescribed burning gave us an edge. In a lot of the forest stands that were under prescribed burning the fires didn't get as hot or intense, and so they did not climb into the canopy and kill the pines."
A study led by Dr. Ken Outcalt, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, found that natural stands that had been burned a few months previous to the fires sustained less damage than those in which fuels had a longer time to accumulate. The difference was even greater in pine plantations, where recently burned stands experienced only 5 percent tree death compared to 52 percent in stands with two or more years of fuel accumulation.
Farther south in Florida, pine flatlands give way to the pine rockland
ecosystems of the Miami Rock Ridge. These forests of South Florida slash pine
house a diverse array of plant species including tropical hardwoods and palms,
as well as a number of unique native grasses and flowers. Pine rocklands are
considered a globally endangered habitat; today they occupy less than 10 percent
of their former range in South Florida, with the largest intact par
Contact: Catherine Haecker
United States Geological Survey