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Fire Regimes of the Central Appalachian Mountains

University of

Joint Fire Science Program header

Texas A&M University

Funded by the JFSP, Project 01C-3-3-09,
with additional support provided by:

Appalachian yellow pine stands, which are dominated by Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens Lamb.) and pitch pine (P. rigida Mill.), typically occupy xeric sites. Regeneration and maintenance of the pines appear to require repeated surface fire, and occasional stand-initiating fires of greater severity. Fire exclusion appears to be preventing the establishment and maintenance of pines. Table Mountain pine, an Appalachian endemic, may largely disappear over time in the continued absence of burning. Deterioration of Appalachian pine stands has stimulated interest in the use of prescribed burning, both to regenerate pines and to reduce hazardous fuel loads, but little research on Appalachian fire regimes is available to guide fire-restoration.

Our research investigates the fire history, age structure, and successional dynamics of yellow pine stands in the Central Appalachian Mountains, which encompass parts of the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateaus. We've conducted our work primarily on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Our methods rely heavily on dendrochronological techniques to date fire scars found in Table Mountain pine logs and use this information to assess the frequency, seasonality, spatial extent, and climatic relations of past fires. Age structure analyses have helped reveal whether pulses of regeneration have occurred, whether the pulses were associated with fire, and whether pine stands are being maintained. We eventually will incorporate our findings into an individual-based forest gap model to evaluate hypotheses about disturbance regimes under which the pine stands developed and to predict likely consequences of reintroducing fire.

We envision that the results of our study will help fill local knowledge gaps significant to fire management plan development and implementation (Task 3, JFSP RFP 2001-3). We anticipate this information being used by land managers in developing guidelines and policies consistent with restoration of fire as an ecosystem process.


Charles W. Lafon
Department of Geography
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
Phone: 979-862-3677

Henri D. Grissino-Mayer

Department of Geography
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996
Phone: 865-974-6029