CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire town is planning an uncommon “prescribed fire” on forestland to promote blueberry growth, reduce excess fuel that feeds fires, and contribute to research for others who want to learn how to do it.
Forest officials say they hope other towns will follow Gilford’s lead. They say the fire is an effective, but underused, management tool in New Hampshire, partly because such a burn requires a lot of planning and safety precautions among agencies.
The 7-acre fire on the top of Locke’s Hill in the Kimball Wildlife Forest could happen as early as Friday, or as late as Dec. 1. It’s dependent on weather and atmospheric conditions.
“The only culture of burning we’ve probably had in the Northeast in recent years is burning blueberry pastures and farm fields,” said Karen Bennett, a University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension forest resources specialist. “There’s less of those, and so we don’t have that kind of culture.”
Another forest specialist said such a fire can be done safely under drought conditions, which much of the state has been dealing with. “Being able to execute this would be a good example and showcase a model,” Andrew Fast, of UNH, said. He said UNH also is collecting data on how much burning has occurred in New Hampshire towns in the last couple of years.
The Gilford land was once part of the nearby Kimball Castle, which was built in the late 1890s by Benjamin Ames Kimball, president of the Boston, Montreal and Concord railways. His daughter-in-law, Charlotte Kimball, was the last person who lived there. She died in 1960.
She left the estate to a charitable foundation with the stipulation that a nature preserve be created, a task that eventually went to the town, said Sandra McGonagle, who heads a local forest committee.
The town built two forest trails on about 300 acres, visited by many hikers and schoolchildren. The trails have signs that describe the forest’s habitat and the animals that can be seen. Visitors can see views of Lake Winnipesaukee. The town has done timber harvests, conducted a bird survey, and allowed a project designed to promote the growth of red oak trees within the wildlife preserve.
“We’ve tried to make it a priority to preserve wildlife habitat opportunities,” McGonagle said.