The New Jersey Forest Fire Service is in the process of developing strategic plans for managing wildfire Forest Fire Service Gyro-Trac conducting fuel reduction at Popcorn Park Zoo, Ocean Countyhazard area within the state. The initial project began with the “East Plains Fireshed,” an area of approximately 90,000-acres located within the Pinelands of Ocean and Burlington Counties. With a long history of devastating wildfires, this area ranks as the highest priority in the state for wildfire mitigation efforts. Additional planning for two other “firesheds” located in Ocean County, the Berkeley and Forked River Firesheds are now underway. These firesheds include the Crossley Preserve, Greenwood Forest and Whiting Wildlife Management Areas, Double Trouble State Park, Miller Air Park (Ocean County Parks) and several cooperating private landowners such as America’s Keswick in Whiting.
The goal of the firesheds is to develop effective wildfire management plans for the protection of life, property and natural resources that is integrated within the overall natural resource management objectives of the area. These plans will reduce accumulation of hazardous forest fuel through a proactive prescribed burning program and mechanical fuel reduction efforts regardless of property ownership boundaries. Further, these plans will coordinate work with local residents to reduce wildfire risk to their homes through Firewise and defensible space initiatives and conduct and analyze a comprehensive risk assessment for all homes and structures within the fireshed for display on GIS maps.
Additional benefits of the plan include efforts to rehabilitate and restore fire adapted ecosystems where applicable; build interagency cooperation among several agencies in improving the implementation of fire management initiatives; initiate a public-private partnerships to develop bio-mass removal solutions that are economically and environmentally feasible in support of fuel reduction projects; and to develop a consensus from all stakeholders on what the future landscape should become.
The East Plains Fireshed Management Plan will be developed in a coordinated effort with the United States Air Force, NJ Air National Guard, NJ Pinelands Commission, NJ Park Service, NJ Forest Management, NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, Garden State Parkway, Ocean and Burlington Counties as well as the municipalities of Stafford, Little Egg Harbor, and Bass River. The first of several linear fuel reduction projects has received the NJ Pineland Commission permits. The Hay Road Fuelbreak in Stafford Township and the Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area is within the perimeter of the major wildfire that burned in May of 2007, and is intended to maintain the crown canopy and fuel loads at a lower, more manageable level than prior to the wildfire. Similar projects along Allen, Oswego, and Three Foot Road are in development.
The Berkeley and Forked River Firesheds are being planned using streamlined review concepts being developed as part of the Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resource’s “Forestry Initiative Pilot Project”. This project is an effort to get early stakeholder agreement on changes to the ecological landscape.
Over a dozen planning initiatives totaling over 24,000-acres are currently active. This total does not include the approximate 20,000-acres of prescribed burning planned each year. The Forest Fire Service has, with the fireshed planning projects, taken another large step in mitigating the hazardous wildland fuel problem within the state of New Jersey.