Nutrient poor soil, acidic water and dry soil conditions are three major factors that influence the kind of vegetation that thrives in the fire prone forests of New Jersey's Pinelands. Some of the reasons these conditions support the growth of fire prone vegetation include:
Pinelands soils are acidic and, as such, forest litter accumulates and does not readily decompose. This lack of decomposition prevents the enrichment of the upper soil layers which are the layers that usually supply the nutrients (food) to the plants.
The highly permeable acidic soils in the Pinelands have a low water retention (water holding) capacity. This often results in dry soil conditions
with little decomposed litter to enrich the region's soil, it is nutrient poor and often dry. Only vegetation like the highly flammable pitch pine can thrive under these conditions
As a result of the presence of highly flammable vegetation, accumulation of dry forest litter, and dry soil conditions, the upland forests of the Pinelands are fire prone.
The Lenape Indians burned the Pinelands forests to improve hunting and traveling opportunities.
During the 1700's and 1800's, common causes of forest fires included sparks from furnaces, forges, and passing trains as well as human carelessness, arson, and lightening; sometimes these fires destroyed entire communities.
Today causes of forest fires include:
carelessness: untended camp fires, tossing a lighted cigarette into the forest, untended trash or leaf burning, industrial accidents
After the duff has burned, the highly acidic, mineral soils of the Pinelands no longer provide fuel for forest fires.
Much of the vegetation in the Pinelands has developed adaptations that help it survive the region's frequent fires. These include:
the thick bark of pitch pine that prevents fire from destroying the living tissue inside the trees stump sprouting of pitch pine and oak serotinous cones of pitch pine
rhizomes (extensive underground stems that send up new leafy shoots) are found on plants like huckleberries and bracken ferns
Frequent forest fire in New Jersey's Pinelands often prevent normal succession and the development of a climax forest.
The recovery of a given Pinelands habitat from fire is largely determined by the frequency and severity of fire.
Animals that live in New Jersey's Pinelands have adapted to or are already suited to the region's fire prone ecosystem.
The New Jersey State Forest Service was established in 1905.
Foresters fight fires and often conduct prescribed burns in the winter to remove accumulated fuel. This intentional and controlled setting of fire that removes forest litter reduces the possibility of future forest fires and provides conditions suitable for the growth of pitch pine and other fire adapted plants.
A program of prescribed burning has been established in New Jersey since 1948.
A series of wildfires in the Pinelands burned over 183,000 acres during the
weekend of April 20-21, 1963. As of 1985, this was the largest wildfire in the
history of the region.