Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire management officials are planning prescribed burns in the Canadian Top Knob, Mathews Branch, and Noland Mountain areas adjacent to Cataloochee Valley in North Carolina. Weather permitting, burn operations could begin as early as Monday, Oct. 20, and may continue intermittently through mid-November.
The burn units this year are part of the larger Canadian Top multi-year prescribed fire project in which fire managers have been conducting a series of low-intensity, controlled burns to restore the composition and open structure of the oak woodlands that occur on upper slopes and ridges. These fire and drought-tolerant natural communities are in decline throughout the Southern Appalachian region.
“The prescribed burns in Cataloochee are critical for the health of oak and pine woodlands. The restoration of this habitat will help to sustain populations of elk and numerous other plants and animals native to Cataloochee Valley,” said National Park Service Fire Ecologist Rob Klein.
This series of burns will reduce the number of fire-sensitive trees and shrubs, increase the regeneration of fire-tolerant oak and yellow pines, and increase the cover and diversity of native grasses and wildflowers. Over time, this increase in herbaceous vegetation on the forest floor will improve forage for elk which graze the nearby meadows. The burn operations will be conducted by park staff and are partially funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“It is exciting when two resource management organizations’ missions are able to be joined in partnership for mutually beneficial results,” said Wildland Fire Unit Leader Shane Paxton.
Roads and trails will remain open to the public throughout the burn operations, although Little Cataloochee Trail may be temporarily closed if fire activity warrants. Visitors should expect to see smoke in the area.