PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is scheduled to conduct a one-day prescribed burn on part of Dutch Island, a state property located in Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and North Kingstown, at some point in the next 30 to 45 days. The exact timing of the burn, to be led by DEM's Divisions of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and Agriculture and Forest Environment, depends on specific fuel and weather conditions.
The controlled height of the flames will be about 2-4 feet and is dependent on the fuel load. All kinds of plant material can act as fuel including grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves, etc. No area on Dutch Island during the burn will be fully enclosed by flames for safety. A controlled burn requires a clear day with sustained winds out of a specific direction to ensure some level of predictability and to disperse smoke. DEM will further advise the public when it has determined a burn window within which the exact date of the burn can be ascertained.
"Prescribed fire represents a versatile tool land managers can use to accomplish a variety of goals that benefit wildlife," said DFW Habitat Biologist John Veale. "When applied correctly, it can reduce invasive plant communities, promote plant species diversity, stimulate new growth, and increase understory for shelter and raising young."
Prescribed, or controlled, burns refer to the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire. They are a common practice among wildlife biologists and land managers across the United States to prevent unplanned, destructive wildfires and create a mosaic of diverse habitats for native plants and animals. This burn will additionally provide an opportunity for local wildland firefighters to train during a controlled event, so they are prepared for future emergency situations.
The prescribed burn area does not include the rocky outcrop that contains the Dutch Island Lighthouse. Encompassing around 85 acres, Dutch Island has an elevation ranging from sea level to about 75 feet with gentle slopes on the shoreline and steep hills and bluffs on the interior. The goals of this project include ecological restoration of maritime grasslands consisting mostly of switch grass and little bluestem grass, along with shrublands and woodlands. Most of the island is a maritime woodland habitat where invasive plants – such as autumn olive, honeysuckle, bittersweet, privet, European larch, and white poplar – have taken hold. The burn will reduce this cover of invasives, which crowd out native plants and create fuel for wildfires. The island's overstory consists of a mix of oak, maple, sassafras, and other trees.
The exact date of the burn will depend on weather and wind conditions but is expected to occur within the window of late March to late April. DEM personnel, along with the North Kingstown and Jamestown Fire Departments, as well as the fire professionals from Star Tree Wildlife Protection LLC, will follow an approved burn plan. The burn plan, created by Star Tree Wildlife Protection and approved by DEM, ensures the safe and successful implementation of fire on the island. The plan walks through the precise environmental conditions required to accomplish the burn, as well as detailed measures, strategies, and goals specific to Dutch Island to minimize smoke impacts and maximize benefits to the habitat.
What will happen to animals?
The timing of the burn is aligned to have the lowest impact on native wildlife and specific techniques are used to make it easier for animals to move out of the area. Fast-moving animals like deer and rabbits will easily be able to move away from the area, as the burn will be moving in one direction and slowly, providing time and space for them to leave. At the time of the burn, slow-moving animals like reptiles and amphibians will be resting in their winter hibernacula (hibernation locations), where they will be safe from the flames. Many animals have adapted techniques to survive low-intensity forest fires, since fires were a natural and regular occurrence in their species' past. Ultimately, the prescribed burn aims to benefit all animals on the island by improving the quality of the habitat.
The site has a long history of military use, and has numerous bunkers, batteries, structures, and remnant infrastructure. The US Army Corp of Engineers has completed a safety remediation project that capped exposed wells and installed fencing and rails along cisterns, shear walls, and other hazardous areas. On the day of the burn, smoke may be visible from the Jamestown Bridge and surrounding areas. The local fire departments are working with DEM to minimize smoke impacts to residents and will be kept informed of the situation. There is no need to contact emergency services should these conditions occur.
Project partners include the US Fish & Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Fund, Wildlife Management Institute, USFWS Partners for Wildlife Program, and Star Tree Wildlife Protection LLC. USFWS's Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program (WSFR) provides funding to states to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, their habitats. WSFR's support allows DEM to protect and enhance wildlife habitat in Rhode Island forests and management areas through prescribed burns such as this, and ensure healthier, more diverse, and abundant wildlife populations.
For more information on the one-day prescribed burn on part of Dutch Island, visit our website. For more information on DEM programs and services, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), Facebook, or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.