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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Forest Disturbance Processes

Fuels and Fire Research in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

[photo:] Fire in New Jersey pine barrensResearch Issue

The Pine Barrens of New Jersey encompass 1.1 million acres, representing 22% of the land area of New Jersey.   The Pine Barrens are characterized by highly flammable forests, historically having a fire return cycle of 15 to 40 years, with large, 100,000+ acre fires common prior to fire suppression activities.  Designated as the Pinelands National Reserve in 1978, these forests are now surrounded by dense housing developments, commercial property, and key transportation corridors.  The existing fire danger rating system does not meet the needs of wildland fire managers.  This is due to several factors; including the unique structure and flammability of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida L.) and other vegetation, low water holding capacity of the sandy soils, and rapidly fluctuating humidity levels and windspeeds during the passage of cold fronts.

Our Research

We are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to improve estimates of fire danger in the Pine Barrens.  These efforts include enhancing the fire weather monitoring for the region (with real-time fire weather data available at, analyses of historic fire climate records, sensitivity analyses of component indices of the National Fire Danger Rating System, and measurements and modeling of fuel moisture contents.  We are also using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems that employing laser measurements to accurately map forest structure and hazardous fuel loads.  In addition, experimental monitoring of prescribed burns and wildfires using LIDAR and field measurements allow us to quantify hazardous fuel reduction, carbon loss and smoke emissions.

Expected Impact

This research is developing a more responsive fire danger rating system specific to the New Jersey Pine Barrens by focusing on the interactions between climate, vegetation, and fire.  The network of towers for monitoring fire weather conditions produces real-time data for fire managers, as well as detailed measurements on turbulence and water evaporation for calculating fuel moisture dynamics and fire risk.  LIDAR data and field measurements are used to produce accurate maps of hazardous fuels for fire managers, and to evaluate the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments.  Our research assists fire mangers understand the forests they are mandated to protect, and helps inform policy makers balance the protection of communities, the reduction of greenhouse gas and smoke emissions, and budgets. 

Research Results

Clark, K. L, N. Skowronski, J. Hom, M. Duveneck, Y. Pan, S. Van Tuyl, J. Cole, M. Patterson, and S. Maurer. 2008. Decision support tools to improve the effectiveness of hazardous fuel reduction treatments. International Journal of Wildland Fire, In press.

Scheller, R.M.., S. van Tuyl, K. Clark, H.G. Hayden, J. Hom and D.J. Mladenoff.  2008.   Simulation of forest change in the New Jersey Pine Barrens under current and pre-colonial conditions.  Forest Ecology and Management 255:  1489-1500. 

Skowronski, N., K. Clark, R. Nelson, J. Hom and M. Patterson. 2007. Remotely sensed measurements of forest structure and fuel loads in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Remote Sensing of Environment 108:123-129.

Clark, Kenneth; Skowronski, Nick; Pan, Yude; Van Tuyl, Steve; Heilman, Warren. 2006. Fire research in the pine barrens of New Jersey. In: Dickinson, Matthew B., ed. 2006. Fire in eastern oak forests: delivering science to land managers, proceedings of a conference; 2005 November 15-17; Columbus, OH. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-1. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 271.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Kenneth Clark, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Research Forester
  • Nicholas Skowronski, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Research Forester
  • John Hom, US Forest Service Northern Research Station – Biological Scientist
  • Warren Heilman, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station - Research Meteorologist

Research Partners

  • Jay Charney, US Forest Service- NRS Participating Research Meteorologist
  • Xindi Bian, US Forest Service- NRS Participating Meteorologist
  • Steve Van Tuyl, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Biologist
  • Rich Birdsey, US Forest Service- NRS Climate, Fire, and Carbon Cycle Sciences Project Leader

Last Modified: 07/24/2009