First season for planned fire partnership
When weather conditions allow, Vineyarders may spot smoke on the horizon. Local environmental groups are planning to use a series of controlled burns to help restore parts of the Vineyard environment.
The Vineyard sandplain - the flat southern and central portion of the Island - has a centuries-long history of frequent fire, which has shaped the ecology of sandplain habitats. Fire suppression since the mid-20th century has interrupted this pattern, allowing globally important grassland and shrubland habitats to grow up into forest and threatening rare wildlife that is adapted to frequent fire.
This spring marks the first burn season for the Martha's Vineyard Prescribed Fire Partnership, formed last fall to "collaboratively apply safe and effective ecological fire management by sharing resources, exchanging information, and promoting public understanding of prescribed fire."
Member organizations -The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Polly Hill Arboretum, Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, and the Massachusetts Audubon Society - have extensive experience with ecological fire management and have worked together less formally for many years, according to a press release.
Prescribed burning is the deliberate application of fire to restore or maintain fire-dependant natural communities. Prescribed fire can also enhance public safety by reducing fuel in flammable, overgrown habitat. Plans for this burn season remain tentative, since wind and weather influence fire operations almost as strongly as ecological objectives. But Katama, Long Point, the grasslands of Chilmark's south shore, and the state forest are among the areas where the Partnership hopes to be active this spring, said Matt Pelikan, TNC ecologist.
This year's fire season is approximately mid-March to May. A fire crew is already in residence at the Conservancy's Hoft Farm field station in West Tisbury.
For more information call The Nature Conservancy's Islands Office, 508-693-6287.