Park works to rehabilitate area affected by April wildfire

Crews in Shenandoah National Park are working on rehabilitation efforts following the wildfire that burned more than 10,000 acres within park boundaries. The fire, the second-largest in the park’s history, raged for much of the second half of April and was declared contained at the end of the month.

Rehabilitation efforts consist of three phases, said Stephen Paull, a biological science technician in Shenandoah National Park who worked as a resource adviser during the fire’s peak.

Phase one consists of the cleanup and repair of areas damaged by suppression efforts. This includes repairing roads, erosion mitigation and addressing safety concerns. Phase two is the assessment of potential damage to trails and boundary markings, along with the determination of any damage to specific vegetation. Phase three will be a follow-up in a later year to gauge the success of the vegetation-related rehabilitation efforts, according to a news release from the park and confirmed by Paull.

Rehabilitation for the affected areas began while the blaze was still being combated, said Paull.

“Rehabilitation began during the suppression,” he said. “We had a lot of resources here starting with fire suppression and once we started getting the fire under control and we had resources available, we had them start working on some rehabilitation as well.”

The most immediate steps, explained Paull, will involve assessment of damage and the repair of damage caused by suppression efforts.

“Currently we are assessing the trails in the burned area to determine what trail repairs need to be done,” Paull said. “We also have crews that are working on rehabilitating bulldozer lines on the perimeter of the park; that involves the use of equipment to basically pull soil back into those areas used to create that fire line.”

The fire lines, he said, were swaths of land cleared of debris in an effort to starve the conflagration of its fuel source.

However, the results of the fire were not exclusively negative, explained Paull, as certain varieties of fire-dependent vegetation, including the table mountain pine, benefitted from the blaze.

“In the absence of fire, you have other vegetation growing in the area, competing with that fire dependent vegetation. Table mountain pine is a pine species that, if you don’t have occasional fire, the seeds are not able to germinate because so much organic material builds up.”

In addition to the burning of the cones’ excess organic material, the fire helps the pines to reproduce through an adaptation called serotiny.

“The table mountain pinecones are serotinous,” said Paull. “What that means is they need heat in order for the cone to expand to release those seeds.”

Another important biological result of the fire is the threat of invasive species, said Paull.

“A lot of these invasive plants thrive when there’s any form of a disturbance,” Paull said. “In some places, it’s created an opening where exotic non-native plants could potentially thrive.”

Paull said that the monitoring, control and elimination of this invasive vegetation is a part of the fire rehabilitation that will continue for years.

“We would have people here in the park that would be going out there periodically for the next few years and looking for those infestations,” Paull said. “…A lot of that work would be taking place closer to Skyline Drive, where we already know there are known invasive plant populations that could potentially seed into the burned area.”

After the immediate needs are met, the repairs of trails and other infrastructure can begin, so long as the park receives the required funding, for which, Paull said, applications have been submitted.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com

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