The Role of Fire in the Dynamics of Piedmont Vegetation
FIRE ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF US FORESTED ECOSYSTEMS, Vol. 39, pp. 31–62.
The Piedmont (PDMT) ecoregion of the USA stretches from New Jersey to Alabama, nestled between the Coastal Plain and Blue Ridge Mountain physiographic provinces. Many of the notable Piedmont plant communities, including the dominant oak-hickory forests of the region, are reliant upon fire to some degree. Before human settlement, most Piedmont vegetation burned relatively frequently and at low intensities, resulting in extensive closed canopy oak-hickory forests, studded with patches of open woodland and savanna largely defined by unusual soil conditions. Indigenous peoples of the Piedmont used fire as a land management tool for both agriculture and game production. Historical changes in land use throughout the region have altered fire regimes and changed forest dynamics dramatically over the past 400 years. Euro-American settlement led to widespread clearing of land for agriculture and logging; by the early twentieth century, very little old-growth forest remained in the Piedmont. During the mid-twentieth century, the decline of agriculture and the aggressive suppression and exclusion of wildfires brought about the growth of successional forests in the place of older, fire-mediated communities. The Piedmont region is currently experiencing a rapid expansion of the human population and land development, making restoration of the historical fire regime a challenge. However, land managers frequently do use prescribed fire to enhance timberland and restore rare plant communities.