Fire in the Wilderness should be managed according to the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, and adjacent land should be managed to protect that wilderness character.
Natural wildfires are critical to the survival of Cumberland Island’s ecosystem. However, under NPS management, naturally-occurring fires have typically been controlled.
At this time, the NPS is trying to control natural fire by installing miles of destructive firebreaks with heavy motorized equipment on the border of federally-designated Wilderness. They are also doing controlled burns on adjacent land, which decimates Wilderness character. This clearly contributes to a disruption in the island’s natural fire cycle, and precariously endangers its ecosystems.
- The Park Service’s current fire management policy, enacted in 2015 and updated in 2019, does not comply with wilderness management guidelines as defined in the Wilderness Act.
- An updated fire plan is anticipated in May 2020.
- Residences and historic structures are always fully protected under the fire management plan.
The fire history of the scrub forest community typically shows a major burn every 25 to 30 years. The fire-adapted scrub needs a significant fuel build-up over many years in order to burn hot and to mineral soil. Invading plants that are not fire-adapted are then eliminated and the ecosystem remains viable. If fire frequency is changed, with a concomitant reduction in intensity, over time the community/ecosystem itself will change.
The wetlands rely on fire to control encroaching vegetation and remove accumulated organic material during dry spells.
Under the NPS’ full fire suppression policy on Cumberland Island, this natural cycle has been disrupted. Every day there is fire suppression or controlled burns, the ecological health of this island is in greater danger.
You can see the National Park Service’s own coverage of their fire management here.