The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership’s winter lecture series concluded last Thursday with “Fire on the Ridge,” a discussion of forest ecology and wildfire management with Gabe Chapin, forest ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, and Hank Alicandri, director of Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
The free lecture series has been held every Thursday evening in February — weather permitting — for nearly two decades now. Most of the lectures are held at SUNY New Paltz, but occasionally, as with this lecture, the event moves to SUNY Ulster’s Stone Ridge campus. The lectures cover a broad spectrum of topics regarding biodiversity on the Ridge.
The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership is a coordinated effort of local organizations to protect, maintain and restore the natural communities and native species of the northern Shawangunks. The Partnership is made up of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Nature Conservancy, the Mohonk Preserve, the Open Space Institute, the New York Natural Heritage Program, the New York State Museum, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, the Cragsmoor Association, Friends of the Shawangunks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.
In 2011, under the auspices of the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership, an interagency fire management plan was developed for Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sam’s Point, Mohonk Preserve and Witch’s Hole. While much of the vegetation on the Ridge is prone to periodic wildfire, the improvement of fire suppression techniques has meant that a great deal of flammable forest debris has accumulated, which increases the potential for more intense wildfires to occur. Fires have to be periodically introduced as a key management tool to support the conservation of the Shawangunk ecosystem.
Using a series of charts and slides as illustration, Chapin and Alicandri discussed the history and natural role of fire in the Shawangunk Mountains ecosystem, speaking about how past fires — planned and unplanned — and the ecology in pine barrens and upland oak forests of the region have shaped the landscape.
Chapin showed photographs of some recent fires, such as the one that burned approximately 3,000 acres at Minnewaska State Park in 2008, the first significant fire on the Ridge in more than 40 years, and the 2015 fire that burned some 2,700 acres of the Shawangunk Ridge State Forest south of Route 52.
What happens after a fire in terms of regrowth depends on what type of vegetation an area has, he said. Pitch pine forests are better adapted to very hot fires like the one in 2015, where decades of undergrowth fed the flames. Pitch pines are very resilient and can re-grow from the crown of the tree.
Topics for next year’s lecture series will be announced next winter. More information can be found on the Mohonk Preserve website at mohonkpreserve.org.