The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a prescribed burn at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, with cooperation and help from both the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Forest Environment and the Union Fire District.
The U.S.F.W.S. fire crew that conducted the burn extended heartfelt thanks to both agencies for their roles in Tuesday’s exercise. The second phase of the prescription was a burn that began just before sunset and continued well after dark, casting a spectacular play of light and color against an early spring evening sky.
“It went awesome. It was well done, everything turned out great,” said Janis Nepshinsky, Visitor Services Manager for the Rhode Island National Wildlife Complex.
The burns are conducted by a group of U.S.F.W.S. employees and Refuge Managers that serve on a fire team. The team travels to conduct prescribed burns at National Wildlife Refuges throughout the northeast region, and their duties sometime take them all around the country. From Trustom Pond, the team will likely head to a refuge on Long Island in the next few days.
A second day of prescribed burns was planned for Wednesday, but the fire team was forced to call it off due to unfavorable weather conditions.
“It just goes to show you how perfect conditions have to be,” Nepshinsky said. Given the unpredictable nature of fire, it is not hard to imagine the extent to which that statement is true. Even with favorable conditions, embers can cause the fire to jump somewhere a fire is not desirable. At one point a large mound of the invasive Asiatic Bittersweet. a few feet from a recently burned patch, began to show flames but skilled crewmembers were fast to extinguish the small, undesired fire.
A U.S.F.W.S. brochure handed out at the refuge on Tuesday detailed the role of prescribed burns in the northeast. Prior to the arrival of European settlers fire was a natural part of the ecosystem, with low-intensity fires shaping much of the habitat in the region. As humans suppress and control fires, they are not allowed to burn as they would have without anthropogenic intervention. As land and wildlife managers, sound stewardship necessitates prescribed burns to help maintain habitat types facilitated by regular burning.
“It’s a great habitat management tool,” Nepshinsky said. “We manage the land for habitat and for certain species. Part of the habitat management plan [at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge] is prescribed burns. It also helps to control invasive species, which we have a lot of here. It’s also a great way to bring back the native warm season grasses, lose the duff layer, and add nutrients to the soil.”
Some bird species the refuge manages habitat for include Northern Harrier Hawks, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Short Eared Owl, American Woodcock, and Bobwhite. The prescribed burn also aimed to reduce the amount of Asiatic Bittersweet growing on the property, an invasive species that out-competes and diminishes ecosystem services provided by native flora. Areas of the refuge slated for prescribed burns rotate on a schedule of approximately three years.
Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge has a partnership with adjoining landowners, the Meyer family, to provide more grassland habitat directly contiguous with that of the Wildlife Refuge through what is known as a conservation easement.
Navigating a Government Ford F-150 over a matted grass road toward the morning burn area, Nepshinsky motioned out the truck’s driver side window. “On one side, we have the Meyer’s property, and on the other, U.S. government property.” Such a partnership is ideal because Trustom Pond is the only undeveloped coastal pond in the entire state of Rhode Island, according to Nepshinsky.
“It’s a great partnership for Rhode Island because when you think of it, all of this [land] is protected forever because of it.”