State park conducting controlled burns

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oak Mountain State Park is conducting controlled burns this month to help maintain the park's longleaf pine woodlands. (FIle)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Employees at Pelham’s Oak Mountain State Park are working this month to save an endangered section of the park by setting controlled fires in about 300 acres.

As part of a program to preserve the park’s longleaf pine woodlands, OMSP personnel will set fire to about 168 acres near the state upper fishing lake and about 130 acres near the public campground.

During the burns, the park will attempt to “ensure proper smoke management and safety of the surrounding areas,” and has notified the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Pelham Fire Department of the burns, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The burns are necessary to ensure the survival of the park’s longleaf pine woodlands, which are “disappearing rapidly” throughout the southeastern United States, according to Birmingham-Southern College Associate Biology Professor Scot Duncan.

Duncan has been studying the park’s two longleaf pine areas for the past seven years, and said OMSP contains “some of the best montane longleaf pine woodlands that remain in the Southeast.”

“Low-intensity, frequent wildfires sparked by lighting were an integral part of the natural southeastern landscape,” Duncan wrote in an email distributed to the Shelby County Commission. “But now, after many decades of fire suppression, these ecosystems and their species are disappearing rapidly.”

Setting controlled fires helps to “eliminate competition from understory vegetation such as maple, gum, hickory and oak,” and helps to fuel the growth of wildlife food sources, according to an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources press release.

“The state parks division feels that if no action is taken and hardwood competition is allowed to grow unchecked, both longleaf locations will be lost and a valuable, historic plant community will become more degraded.”

The park also is drafting a plan to remove some of the mature oak trees in the longleaf pine zones to use in conjunction with the controlled burns.