DCR will present plan to reduce state forest fire risk

Dead red pines in the State Forest just off Airport Road are scheduled for removal. — Ralph Stewart

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will hold a public meeting on Saturday, October 1, to discuss a plan to reduce the fire risk in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest by reducing available fuel, mostly dead and dying trees, and managing scrub oak through prescribed burns and brush cutting.

A presentation on the 2011-2012 “Hazard Fuels Mitigation Plan” will be followed by a question and answer session, according to a press release. The session begins at 1 pm in the state forest maintenance barn off Barnes Road. There will be an optional site visit conducted by DCR staff to view the planned treatment areas from 2 pm to 3 pm.

At the meeting, DCR will provide information for Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.

The forest has been the site of several plans and fire prevention efforts. Most recently, in January 2009 DCR announced a plan to remove dead and dying red pines from about 110 acres of the forest.

The work was part of a three-year, 237-acre “emergency ecological restoration project,” intended to restore native trees such as pitch pine and scrub oak and reduce wildfire risks and public safety hazards, DCR said at the time.

The 5,100-acre State Forest is located in the geographical center of the Island.

The red pines found in the State Forest are not native to the Island. The pines were planted during previous conservation efforts, beginning in the 1930s. Originally, the state had planned to produce lumber from the pine plantations, but with no clear management, the trees remained uncut, and over the years they began to compete for space with the smaller, native species, including the scrub oak. In 2004, a disease known as Diplodia pinea infested the forest and killed more than 300 acres of red pine.

State and local officials have been concerned for years about the risk posed by falling trees and the build-up of fuel loads — dead and dying trees — that provide tinder for forest fires during periods of extreme drought.

The last significant fire in the State Forest was in July 1999, following an extended drought. The blaze consumed 20 acres of woods and smoldered for two days before surrendering to the efforts of more than 100 volunteer firefighters from all six Island towns and the first steady rainfall of the summer.

In the spring of 1916, fire destroyed 12,000 acres from West Tisbury to Farm Neck and Ocean Heights in Edgartown. A 1,000-acre fire tore through the forest in 1930, and another in 1946 destroyed more than 5,000 acres from the head of Tisbury Great Pond to Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.

For more information about the public meeting call 617-626-4974 or email DCR.Updates@state.ma.us.