Many people are surprised to hear about the fundamental role that fire plays in shaping the Massachusetts landscape. For many decades total fire exclusion from all natural lands was general policy throughout Massachusetts and the entire United States, because of difficulty in stopping uncontrolled fires and the damage wrought in the late 1800s by slash fires after timbering. Fire exclusion has resulted in the decline of numerous species and degradation of entire ecosystems. Massachusetts has several native natural communities that are fire adapted, including some that provide habitat to state- and federally-listed rare species. These natural communities include sandplain grasslands and heathlands, scrub oak shrublands, pitch pine-scrub oak barrens and ridgetops, calcareous fens, and oak woodlands.
The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program partners with other state agencies and non-profit organizations to conduct prescribed burning on select protected lands in Massachusetts every year. The approach to prescribed burning is scientific and not undertaken lightly. The primary concerns for all prescribed burns are personal and site safety. Planning is critical for every burn, whether it is conducted for research purposes, restoration, fuel reduction, or habitat maintenance.