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ANF proposes fire to boost oak at Tracy Ridge

Photo from ANF scoping document This map, via the diagonal lines, shows the 2,000 acres subject to a proposal for prescribed fire aimed at supporting oak ecosystems at Tracy Ridge.

Federal officials have proposed the use of fire to foster a stronger oak ecosystem at Tracy Ridge.

The first fire is planned for spring 2022 with additional fires generally expected to occur every three to five years.

Oak ecosystems are dependent on periodic disturbances to provide oaks with a competitive advantage over other tree species, ANF said in a statement. Native American use of fire, followed by logging practices in the late 1800s and early 1900s, helped oak forests thrive for hundreds of years.

But that lack of fire and “man made disturbance” has shifted the dynamic.

“Reintroducing periodic fires to the area will help oak seedlings outcompete other species,” Bradford District Ranger Rich Hatfield said. “These seedlings will replace mature oak trees that succumb to age or other factors, helping sustain the oak forests on Tracy Ridge for future generations.”

According to a scoping document on the project, a total of 2,000 acres in the vicinity of Sugar Bay and Handsome Lake will be the focus of this effort.

“As these mature oak trees die from various causes, they are being replaced by hardwood species other than oaks,” the document states.

“Oak seedlings require the periodic disturbance from fire that favors oaks over other non-fire adapted hardwood species. As the mature oaks that currently dominate the Tracy Ridge area succumb to various causes, they will be replaced by non-oak hardwood species if fire is not reintroduced.”

Officials say the “long-term sustainability” of the oak ecosystem at Tracy Ridge is “at risk” due to other challenges including deer abundance, loss of beech and chestnut and non-native insects and diseases.

“Tracy Ridge is one of several places on the forest where little to no vegetation management occurs,” the scoping document states. “The last commercial timber harvest in the area dates back to the 1940’s, and the most recent non-commercial treatment was an aspen release that occurred before 1980. Non-commercial timber harvesting is possible under certain circumstances, but is impractical on a broader scale. As a result, prescribed fire is the best tool available to maintain the Tracy Ridge oak ecosystems and the ecological services they provide.”

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