Fishers Island Conservancy’s Annual Burn

by Jane Ahrens

Thursday, March 24 the Fishers Island Fire Department volunteers held their drill on the west end and participated in a controlled burn of the Race, Airport and Parade Ground habitats in coordination with the Fishers Island Conservancy.

The concerted effort to reclaim our native grasslands from invasive plants began in October 2010. That was when the Fishers Island Ferry District, which oversees the property for the Town of Southold, signed onto the Conservancy’s proposal and the burn plan was put into practice. What happens if we do not use fire as a management tool? Two undesirable things will occur. First, we will see more and more vegetation building up as potential fuel for uncontrolled fires. Second, Fishers Island’s natural grasses, shrubs and trees are being overtaken by invasive vines and shrubs, mostly of Asian origin. The Conservancy is committed to preserving the natural flora on Fishers and pushing back the invasives. In the grasslands, fire is the best management tool we have.

“Burn Boss” Donnie Beck is a member of the Fishers Island Fire Department and the Fishers Island Conservancy Habitat Committee. He also serves on the Henry L. Ferguson Museum’s Land Trust Committee. He has conducted controlled burns at the Fishers Island Club for the last 23 years. And, over the last few years, he has helped both the Conservancy and Museum boards create prescribed burn plans and apply for permits. Here Donny explains the burn process:

In general, both the Museum and Conservancy try to divide their properties in thirds and only burn one section each year. This ensures the fire has enough fuel to burn effectively and most importantly, it leaves habitat for wildlife on the majority of each property.

The burn itself is done the same way each time. Both the Conservancy and Museum have trail systems in place that separate the plots and act as fire breaks. The closely mown trails will not burn and help control the fires. We always start by back-burning on the downwind side of the plot and then work slowly up the perimeters to provide a buffer. The fires are started with either a propane torch or with outdated flares provided by the fire department. In all cases, crews monitor the perimeter of the burn and are prepared to extinguish any potential jump across the trails with water and tampers. Once a sufficient buffer is established we start dissecting the remaining plot by burning small sections across the middle allowing the fire to burn downwind until it extinguishes due to lack of fuel which has already been burned by the slow back burn.

Fishers Island Conservancy

On behalf of the Fishers Island Conservancy, I would like to extend our deepest thanks and gratitude to Fire Chief Bruce Hubert and the entire Fishers Island Fire Department for their leadership in conducting the grassland burns this past Thursday at the Parade Grounds, Elizabeth Field and Race Point. These spring burns are critical to the work the Conservancy has done and continues to do in habitat restoration, maintenance and management at these sites. The grasslands are a very precious resource for all of us to enjoy so please come out and walk the paths as spring pushes out new green shoots and perhaps you will be lucky and catch a glimpse of our resident Northern Harriers hunting as I did on Friday.

Again the Conservancy appreciates the planning, organization and hard work of the Fishers Island Fire Department more than words here can express.


Thomas A. Sargent
Fishers Island Conservancy

Participating Fire Department Members:
Chris Dollar
Kathy Dollar
John Doucette
Chris Edwards
Greg Thibodeau
Dirk Harris
Nate Malinowski
Ace Ahrens
Donnie Beck
Alex Kardziyak
John Kucsera

Robert Rogers
David Burnham
George Horning
Robert Brooks
Tawnya Eastman
Jess Hall
Michael Imbriglio
John Bergquist
Jeff Edwards
Bruce Hubert
Joe Brock

Click any photo to see a larger image or view as a slideshow. Photo Credit: Jane Ahrens

Help us help Fishers. Take a garbage bag with you when you next walk the Parade Ground (or anywhere on the island) and help pick up the trash. Maybe this will remind those who drop it to take care of it themselves next time!

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

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