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Keywords:

  • crown fire;
  • forest history;
  • pitch pine;
  • scrub oak;
  • shrubland animals;
  • young forest animals

Abstract

Pine barrens include an assortment of pyrogenic plant communities occurring on glacial outwash or rocky outcrops scattered along the Atlantic coastal plain from New Jersey to Maine, and inward across New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the northern Great Lakes region. At least historically, pine barrens provided some of the highest quality terrestrial shrublands and young forests in the eastern North American sub-boreal and northern temperate region. However, the mosaic open-canopy, sparse-shrub, and grassland early successional state is generally lacking in contemporary pine barrens. Many sites in the northeastern United States have converted to overgrown scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia, Quercus prinoides) thickets and closed canopied pitch pine (Pinus rigida)-dominated forests. Thinning pitch pine is a contentious issue for the imperiled pitch pine-scrub oak barrens community type (G2 Global Rarity Rank, 6–20 occurrences). Here we provide a historical, ecological, and resource management rationale for thinning pitch pine forest to restore savanna-like open barrens with a mosaic of scrub oaks, heath shrubs, and prairie-like vegetation. We postulate that the contemporary dominance of pitch pine forest is largely of recent anthropogenic origin, limits habitat opportunities for at-risk shrubland fauna, and poses a serious wildfire hazard. We suggest maintaining pitch pine-scrub oak barrens at 10–30% average pitch pine cover to simultaneously promote shrubland biodiversity and minimize fire danger.