Longleaf pine ecosystems are iconic systems of the southeastern United States that historically contained a spectacular diversity of plants and animals. These habitats have, unfortunately, been degraded and reduced to a small fraction of their former extent through a century of landscape conversion, logging, and fire suppression. In response, many agencies, NGOs, private landowners and businesses have committed to longleaf pine restoration, with prescribed fire serving as one of the primary tools in such efforts. However, the use of prescribed fire to maintain or restore biodiversity and historic ecological conditions in longleaf pine ecosystems while also reducing wildfire risk may be increasingly difficult as the longleaf landscape is becoming more developed and projected climate changes are expected to restrict prescribed burning opportunities.
Here, we present the initial results of a survey designed to provide baseline information on the criteria used for prioritizing potential burn sites, current burning practices and limitations, and expectations for future changes in burning constraints. Based on responses from more than 300 fire managers across the Southeast, our results clarify overall patterns and subregional trends in the seasonal and diurnal timing, goals, and associated risk calculations associated with their longleaf pine burn programs and point toward a number of challenges that regional fire managers expect to face over the next 50 years.