DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
Chapters:Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11IntroductionCase StudiesAcknowledgements
Chapter 8 Case Studies

Landscape Disturbance: Warren Grove Gunnery Range

Disturbance Regimes and Landscape Process

The Warren Grove Gunnery Range (WGR) is a 9,416-acre federal facility situated in the East Pine Plains, Burlington County, New Jersey. The WGR is operated by the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing and used for tactical and conventional air-to-ground gunnery training. About 550 acres are used for targets, with the remaining 8,864 acres maintained in a natural state that act as a safety buffer to protect the surrounding communities from wildfires and dangers associated with military operations. The WGR is surrounded by state forested lands and undeveloped private lands. Mission-started fires have the potential to escape from WGR and threaten surrounding lands and nearby developed communities.

The East Pine Plains is a rare and protected forest community (G2S1)1 situated within the Pinelands National Reserve, a fire-maintained ecosystem. The Pine Plains forest type (dwarf pine trees less than 3 meters tall) results from an increased fire frequency compared to other regions of the Pinelands. The dwarf pine plains communities are dominated by fire-tolerant species, namely pitch pine (Pinus rigida), shrub oaks (Quercus marilandica, Q. ilicifolia) and several ericaceous shrubs. A 5-to-10 year prescribed burning cycle is believed to promote dwarfing traits in pitch pine and shrub oaks, reduce fuel load buildup, and maintain a characteristic dwarf pine plains landscape. A long fire history and pattern of frequent intense burning has shaped this fire-prone ecosystem.

How do you protect this rare fire-prone ecosystem, deal with potential wildfire and public concerns, and maintain the military mission? The New Jersey Air National Guard (NJANG) approached these issues through an adaptive resource management program outlined in the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for WGR: an aggressive prescribed burning program to reduce hazardous fuel loads around target areas, and assistance from outside partners, including development of the Warren Grove Range Community Council, which addresses military issues and local concerns.

Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan: In 2006 the New Jersey Air National Guard implemented its second five-year Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP) for WGR. (The first began in 2001.) The INRMP is a guide for the management and stewardship of all natural resources present on WGR; it employs a multiple-use approach that assures the New Jersey Air National Guard mission while effectively managing natural resources to conserve biodiversity and environmental quality. The INRMP was developed by a task force from several federal, state, and local agencies, including representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Services, New Jersey Pinelands Commission, New Jersey Forest Fire Service (njffs), and New Jersey Bureau of Forest Management. The INRMP identified natural resource management practices needed to maintain and enhance biological diversity.

The overriding goals included:

  • Manage for no net loss in WGR's capability to support the military mission.
  • Minimize habitat fragmentation and promote natural connectivity of habitats.
  • Protect native species and discourage non-native, exotic species.
  • Protect rare and ecologically important species and unique and sensitive environments.
  • Maintain or mimic natural processes.
  • Protect genetic diversity.
  • Restore ecosystems, communities, and species.
  • Monitor biodiversity impacts.
  • Several fire-related issues were identified that required resolution to comply with the INRMP goals. Specifically, these included:
  • A lack of knowledge of the occurrence and distribution of state and federally listed species that inadvertently could be impacted by mission activities, including prescribed burning.
  • A need for road improvements to increase better access to fire and decrease response time.
  • A lack of fuel breaks between fire management blocks
  • .
  • A lack of a coordinated regional fireshed management that encompasses offrange lands.

Since the implementation of the 2001 INRMP, the NJANG has been proactive in addressing all four of these concerns. Drexel University recently completed a comprehensive floral inventory (2002–04) that identified 28 rare plant species and 7 rare habitat types occurring at WGR. These data were entered into a gis database to be used for planning range operations (e.g., prescribed burning). In addition, Drexel University has ongoing research associated with a herpetological survey, small mammal survey, non-native plant survey, avian survey, habitat restoration assessment and fire management assessment. These studies will help natural resources managers at WGR to protect habitat, conserve listed species, and maintain ecosystem function concomitant with the military mission.

Fire Management at WGR

The NJANG has a long history of fire management and forest stewardship at WGR. The NJANG in 1985, along with the U.S. Park Service, New Jersey Pinelands Commission, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, developed a fire management plan that was designed to mitigate wildfire danger and employ prescribed burning that uses intense crowning and scorching surface fires to maintain pine plains habitat. Starting in 1985, several thousand acres of dwarf pine plains have undergone prescribed burns by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service to reduce the risk of wildfires. Although these prescribed burns serve to reduce the buildup of forest fuels near target areas, their frequency and intensity serve an important ecological function by mimicking the natural fire regime required to maintain the dwarf pine plains forest type.

Several key ecological goals of the fire management plan are to:

  • Maintain a landscape and community-scale fire regime which perpetuates pine plains and associated forest communities
  • Maintain a fire regime mosaic within the pine plains that provides open areas for rare species such as Conrad's crowberry (Corema conradii) and closed canopies for other species
  • Maintain the diversity of spatial and temporal fire regime patterns
  • Maintain a fire regime that maximizes diversity and abundance of rare and common species
  • Take precautions to avoid ecological damage when doing restoration burning in long unburned communities
  • Minimize the effect that smoke has on air quality and human communities.

A recent study by Drexel University evaluated the effects of the fire management program on species richness and community structure in the pine plains forest type. The results of this study indicated that the current fire management strategy employed by WGR maintains a pine plains community, does not impact rare species, and does not encourage non-native species. The study determined that the fire management plan encourages diversity and maintains ideal habitat for several fire-dependent species such as pine barren reed grass (Calamovilfa brevipilis).

Starting in 1999, a more aggressive prescribed burn program was initiated around target areas. Range personnel have actively improved and widened 12 miles of primary roads to increase larger fuel breaks between fire management blocks. Another 30 miles of interior roads that dissect fire blocks and eight miles of plowlines have also been improved. The WGR is divided into 30 fire blocks that receive prescribed burning at different intervals and at different intensities so that the burn mimics the natural fire regime for that forest type. For example, the seven fire blocks that encircle the target zone are pine plains and pine plains transitional forest habitat types that are burned on a rotational basis every five to seven years. In contrast, fire blocks in buffer zones dominated by more arborescent trees have longer prescribed burned intervals. This fire management strategy promotes a fire regime that more closely mimics natural fire patterns. Some fire blocks in the target zone are burned more regularly than a five-to-seven-year frequency if they pose a potential wildfire risk. The NJANG works with a trained fire ecologist to develop a prescribed burn plan for each fire block. The fire ecologist and range personnel survey each fire block for rare species, sensitive habitat, and wetlands before improving or putting in plowlines and fire access roads. If necessary, a conservation plan is put into place to protect rare species and sensitive habitats. In some cases, prescribed burning is recommended to improve or restore sensitive habitat. Seed banks, dispersal corridors, and metapopulation dynamics are considered for species with limited distribution at WGR. Ecological burns are typically scheduled in February or early March, at a time when rare snake species and still in hibernation and will not be impacted by the burn. The prescribed burn plan is evaluated by the njffs. The fire ecologist monitors the prescribed burn and prepares a post-burn fire analysis to evaluate ecological effects and success of fire management goals.

Outside Partners and Warren Grove Community Council

The New Jersey Forest Service is currently coordinating an effort with United States Air Force, NJANG, NJ Pinelands Commission, njdep, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, along with Stafford, Little Egg Harbor, and Bass River municipalities to develop an East Plains Fire Shed Management Plan. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJFC) has initiated a program to acquire and manage lands adjacent to the WGR. The NJANG and NJFC have agreed to work together to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities. In addition, the NJANG organized the Warren Grove Range Community Council (WGRCC) to provide a forum for discussion of interests and issues associated with WGR. This is especially important because of increased encroachment and development in nearby townships. Members of the WGRCC include local government representatives, environmental groups, educators, research scientists, and njffs. The WGRCC meets twice a year at a different municipality to discuss citizen concerns about mission related activities including wildland-urban fire risks. The WGR fire management plan, role of fire in the Pinelands, and potential risks to communities are key topics of discussion addressed by the NJANG and njffs.

© Copyright 2008. NatureServe.

About This Case Study's Author
By Walter F. Bien, Ph.D.
Drexel University
Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology
Phone: 215-895-2266

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