U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 82, December 2009


US government work.


Between 1999 and 2003, an epidemic of southern pine beetles ravaged the southeastern United States from Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas. In five southern Appalachian states alone this destructive insect killed more than a million acres of pine and caused $1.5 billion in economic losses on state, federal, and private lands. In the aftermath, the massive amount of dead and downed trees has multiplied the risk of wildfire. The Forest Service regularly uses controlled burning with the primary goal of fuels reduction. After the latest outbreak of the pine beetle, the Forest Service is also using fi re to promote a healthier and more resilient mix of pine and hardwoods, to reduce midstory vegetation that crowds out shade intolerant species such as shortleaf pine, and to establish a diverse forest floor and understory that supports a variety of wildlife. An experiment in the Cherokee National Forest in the southern Appalachians is helping guide these efforts. Researchers measured effects of fire on soil, water chemistry, and regeneration of pine, hardwood species, and understory vegetation. Results indicate that controlled burning or fell and burn had no signifi cant adverse impacts on water chemistry or soil. In addition, while hardwoods regenerate spontaneously, shortleaf pine on these sites did not. Restoration will likely require planting seedlings on prepared sites, and additional mechanical or chemical treatments may also be necessary to knock back midstory vegetation.