Students study Alligator River refuge fire

By on December 28, 2011

(North Carolina Division of Forest Resources)

By Robert Perry
With help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel, other experts around the state and many citizens, 11 UNC students of the Albemarle Ecological Field Site have completed an effort to understand and offer policy suggestions about last summer’s Pains Bay Fire.

The students looked into the history of fires in nearby pocosin areas to see how they had been dealt with in earlier years by federal, state and local agencies and fire-fighters.

The most recent fire was in the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge and in the Air Force’s Bombing Range

To learn more about how Outer Banks citizens felt about the Pains Bay Fire, the students developed a questionnaire and surveyed nearly 200 residents about what they thought of the smoke and ash that drifted over large areas of the Outer and
Inner Banks for weeks.

Those results will be presented by the students, along with some thoughtful policy recommendations and ideas when they report out to the public.

The students, most of whom are environmental studies majors at the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, came to appreciate the great richness of the pocosin areas on the coast as they studied it in relation to fire and its long history in this region.

Pocosin environments on the North Carolina coast are not particularly well understood, but they are home for hundreds of species of native plants and animals, and they are a terrific place for migrating birds to stop, eat and rest.

Our students also learned that Outer Banks residents care deeply about the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge and hope that it continues be a healthy place for wildlife to live and for people to visit. We learned that fires have moved through these coastal
woodlands for thousands of years, and that many animals and plants have
adapted to that “fire ecology.”

The students also came to appreciate that it’s getting more difficult for expanding human development to exist right next to large natural areas if fire occurs naturally.

The students’ investigation and findings are part of their Capstone Project, a team-oriented undertaking that examines a phenomenon important to the overall ecology, economy, and education of Outer Banks citizens.

One of the most rewarding activities undertaken by the students was meeting and talking to local citizens when administering their survey. They learned about people’s feelings regarding the Pains Bay Fire. Residents expressed a wide range of sentiments, and these were captured by the students in their research findings.

Robert Perry is director of the Albemarle Ecological Field Site in Manteo.

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