Longleaf pine is very tolerant of fire, even at young ages. Unable to compete well with other vegetation, its seedlings will stay in the grass stage for years unless the ecosystem is controlled by fire or other forest management practices.
Orton will begin its annual prescribed burning between March 1 and May 1 on more than 6,000 acres to improve forest health and restore longleaf pine habitat, as part of a multi-partner, range-wide forest restoration effort.
Trained experts conduct the controlled burns at Orton, and are in close coordination with the North Carolina Forest Service, the North Carolina Department of Air Quality, the Brunswick and New Hanover County fire departments and 911 services.
The burn is overseen by Orton Property Manager Dillon Epp, a state-certified controlled burner, in accordance with an approved plan to ensure the safety of people and property in the area. Controlled burns are dependent upon optimal weather conditions with the ultimate goal of smoke mitigation.
“With its interconnected longleaf pine forests and wetlands, Southeastern North Carolina is recognized as one of the most ecologically diverse locations on earth,” said Epp. “Guided by Mr. Bacon’s conservation ethic, we are proud that our annual prescribed fire regimen at Orton, together with the work of our partners, is playing a significant role in a larger, range-wide public-private effort to build resilience in this special habitat.”
Prescribed fire not only benefits the longleaf pine ecosystem by controlling invasive species and encouraging new plant growth, but also mitigates the possibility of wildfire by reducing dangerous fuel loads that accumulate over the course of the year.
“Prescribed fire, also known as controlled burning, is an essential tool for managing natural ecosystems in southeastern United States,” said Orton wildlife biologist and research scientist Dr. Theron Terhune. “Scores of native plant and animal species depend on fire for habitat maintenance, and the removal of fire from the landscape and human exclusion of fire has threatened their existence. The good news is these continued efforts and partnerships to put fire on the ground creates a safer environment for humans while protecting wildlife and natural resources.”
Although the projected burning window stated is two months long, the actual number of days prescribed fire will be applied is around 14 days. Strict criteria such as optimal weather determine when a permitted burn can take place.
Area residents may see or smell smoke, including residents of Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Wilmington, as well as travelers on Highway 133. Area residents should contact the North Carolina Forest Service with concerns.