Park service crews begin controlled burns along Natchez Trace

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The woods around Old Town Overlook on the Natchez Trace Parkway were filled with fire Wednesday and it was just what the National Park Service ordered.
Travis Neppl’s fuels management team began this year’s prescribed fire schedule, which goes from October 2012 until September 2013.
They target species that will easily burn, which they call fuels.
“The primary reason we burn is to reduce hazardous fuels, which basically is just the brush, which is natural brush that accumulates over time,” said Neppl, fuels management specialist for the National Park Service. “If we can reduce the amount of fuels that are out there on the ground, it helps to limit the amount of damage a wildfire can do.”
Neppl’s crew members walked through the wooded areas of the Old Town Overlook with drip torches, carrying the fire as they went.
“We’re also trying to open up the woods,” Neppl said. “A lot of people don’t realize that historically the woods weren’t as thick as they are today and over time it grows up and you tend to lose the grasses that would be growing on the forest floor.”
Removing the brush and new growth on the forest floor allows for diversity in plant and wildlife.
“The third reason we burn is we have a lot of exotic fuels – whether it be vegetation that was planted back in the day or invaded from private lands and has become established and taken over,” Neppl said. “Privet is one you’ll see up and down the Trace. It’s a pretty plant that was imported from Asia and takes over and can crowd everything out and you lose native vegetation.”
Neppl hopes to burn between 1,200 and 2,000 acres of brush in National Park Service forests between now and next September.
Wednesday’s burn started at the scenic trail entrance at the Old Town Overlook and went back into the woods and south toward Highway 78 for a total of about 15 acres.
“It’s a pretty small burn, but it’s up against the urban interface – houses we need to protect – so it’s complicated and we’ll take our time.”
Their first burn, he said, went great, “Minimal smoke – it wasn’t even an issue – and there were no problems with the burn getting out. We cleared a lot of brush.”
jb.clark@journalinc.com