The Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network (SBR FLN) will hold their annual meeting in Hiawassee on May 16th thru 18th.  The SBR FLN is a gathering of natural resource managers who are dedicated to bringing fire back into our mountain environment. Fire is a natural phenomenon that has occurred in our forests since the beginning of time and will continue long after we are gone no matter how hard we try to prevent it. The Firewise and Fire Adapted programs don’t try to prevent fire, but educate people who live in the wildland areas on how to prepare and protect their property from the out-of-control wildfire that is coming to their backyard one day.

Partners in the SBR FLN collaborate to develop, share and apply the best available science to restore fire across a vast, diverse region. Partners and stakeholders work in teams in the network’s eight landscapes to set and achieve restoration goals in their fire-adapted pine and oak forests. Vegetation maps, models and tools developed by partners help build a cohesive vision and description of restoration needs. Landscape teams have adapted a regional treatment prioritization tool and applied it locally, with each learning from other landscapes’ work.

The SBR FLN has also collaborated with the Cherokee National Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, the Central Appalachians Fire Learning Network and LANDFIRE to adapt LANDFIRE models to this region. The models, along with a LiDAR-based forest structure analysis and the vegetation maps, have been used to estimate the loss of current vegetation from historic conditions across the National Forests of North Carolina. This information is informing forest planning and National Environmental Policy Analysis (NEPA) projects in several landscapes. Fire history research on three SBR FLN landscapes is shaping prescribed fire regimes. Evidence that fire historically played a role in maintaining these forests—which are changing, due to almost a century of fire suppression—is also being used to build wider support for the use of controlled fire.

Partnership burns across multiple ownerships have become common in most landscapes, and more are planned for the coming year. Partly as a result of the last SBR regional workshop in Johnson City, Tennessee, state agencies in North and South Carolina are discussing collaborative burning across state lines for the first time. A network of monitoring plots established by Forest Stewards enables partners to track the effectiveness of management actions. Consistent, long-term monitoring is essential, since it can take years—and multiple treatments—for the full impact of fire in hardwoods to become evident. The second comprehensive assessment using these data was recently completed, and will be used to inform planning for future burns and other restoration work.

SBR FLN partners include Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Smoky & Unaka Mountains Northern Escarpment, Central Blue Ridge Escarpment, Nantahala & Balsam Mountains, Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, South Mountains, New River Headwaters, Network Partners Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists, Forest Stewards, Georgia Department of Natural Resources—State Parks; Wildlife Resources Division, Georgia Forest Watch, Greenville Water Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River, Mountain True National Park Service,—Blue Ridge Parkway; Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, South Carolina Division of Natural Resources, South Carolina Forestry Commission, South Carolina State Parks, The Nature Conservancy, Towns County Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, USFS Chattahoochee-Oconee NF; Cherokee NF; Nantahala NF, Pisgah NF, USFS Region 8 Fire & Aviation, USFS—Southern Research Station, and Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D.

The Fire Learning Network is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resilience and Fire Adapted Communities Together (PERFACT), a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, the USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior. This FLN has helped build the foundation of the Joint Fire Science Program’s Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists, and continues to play a key role in providing opportunities for networking among scientists, managers and practitioners. This accelerates transfer of knowledge and feedback that supports adaptive management. Well-attended workshops, (they cut this year’s meeting attendance off at 100 with a waiting list) collaborative projects, and tools shared by webinar and other means have helped the SBR FLN build strong working partnerships. These, in turn, support the steady growth of the network, most recently with the addition of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains landscape. This landscape brings a new dimension to the SBR FLN, as it includes Towns County, a member of the Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) Learning Network.  For more information on SBR FLN go to: www.nature.org or contact Frank Riley – Executive Director, Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D Council at info.ccrcd@gmail.com.