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New Fire Plan Ignores Wilderness

New Fire Plan Ignores Wilderness

February 17, 2015  |  Ear to the Sand

The National Park Service approved a new fire management plan last week which disregards wilderness law in favor of convenience. The plan allows prescribed burning, herbicide application, and heavy machinery to operate in the wilderness on a regular basis.

Natural lightning-ignited wildfire is an essential part of the island ecosystem, as natural and important as rain in maintaining the island’s health. Several species and communities cannot exist without it.  Even live oaks benefit from fire. The wetlands rely on fire to control encroaching vegetation and remove accumulated organic material during dry spells. Endangered long leaf pines will not reproduce without the presence of fire.

The scrub forest community on Cumberland Island also depends on fire. Fire-adapted plants such as saw palmetto, stagger bush, pine and bay compose a large portion of the north end of the island. Without periodic fires, the community loses much of its biodiversity.

Lightning-ignited wildfires happen frequently on Cumberland. The park could save a lot of time and taxpayer money by allowing fires in the wilderness area to burn naturally.

Residences and historic structures are always fully protected, even in wilderness, under any fire management plan. Protection of residences and structures is not at issue. The real issue is whether the National Park Service will ever choose to recognize wilderness on Cumberland. Naturally ignited wildfire is an essential component of the wilderness, but once again, their management plan largely ignores the wilderness in favor of human manipulation.

While the new plan is an improvement on the full fire suppression policy of the last few decades, it still disregards the law and the needs of the wilderness. Rather than prescribed burns, herbicide applications and the use of heavy machinery in the wilderness, the National Park Service should allow lightning-ignited wildfires to burn naturally in the wilderness. Creating a Wilderness Management Plan should be a top priority for the National Park Service so that the island’s wilderness is not further degraded.

Send a letter supporting only lightning-ignited wildfire in the island wilderness by clicking here.

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