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Waterboro Barrens
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Waterboro Barrens Preserve, ME

Waterboro Barrens Preserve

The Waterboro Barrens is a 2,140-acre Nature Conservancy preserve located in the towns of Waterboro, Newfield, and Shapleigh, ME. The Preserve is one of the largest and best-preserved pitch pine barrens in Maine. It partially consists of 20 acres of traditional/historic blueberry barrens that were used by settlers as well as Native Americans. In eight acres of the Barrens the blueberry plants are in the understory of scrub oak plants. 

The Waterboro Pine Barrens in Maine experienced a large fire in 1947 and have not burned in wildfire since that time. Aerial photographs dating back to 1940 track changes in plant communities over the last 60 years, and show that the mixed deciduous cover type doubled in area. Pitch pine-scrub oak increased, but open canopy pitch pine declined by 93% and scrub oak cover declined by 67%. Fire disturbance is thus necessary for the exclusion of fire-intolerant species and the long-term perpetuation of the pine barrens ecosystem.

Management at the Waterboro Barrens Preserve

Management at Waterboro Barrens is led by The Nature Conservancy's southern Maine Chapter. Objectives of management of the Barrens include:

  • opening up areas of historic/traditional blueberry barrens
  • reducing scrub oak by top-killing shrubs with prescribed fire and subsequent hand treatments
  • putting 20 acres under a 3-yr prescribed burn cycle
  • burning 100-300 acres/yr of pitch pine-scrub oak habitat (in 2004 the goal was 100 acres; 65 were successfully burned)
  • duff reduction and altering fuel arrangements
  • reduction of crown fire potential

Recent management treatments on the Barrens involved (click on an underlined treatment for more detailed information):

  • thinning along fire roads for 50-75 ft with moderate overstory removal
  • greatly reducing understory vegetation by mowing
  • burning 65 acres of pitch pine-scrub oak in 2004
  • thinning doghair PP stands, leaving large 150yr-old trees

At the Waterboro Barrens Preserve The Nature Conservancy has established photo monitoring plots, vegetative plots (to monitor changes in species composition), and plots monitoring duff depth and fuel arrangement in both Barrens habitat and pitch pine-scrub oak habitat. Within each habitat type, there are plots for each treatment type: control, thin with fire, thin without fire, fire without thin, etc.

Preliminary results include an average duff reduction of 4 inches. Researches also have a sense that fuel arrangement questions not necessarily being answered by Brown's lines and are thinking of other options.

At the Barrens, most burns have taken place under high relative humidities, with resultant low fire behavior. Evaluation of the effectiveness of treatments at the Barrens is on-going, but some consider it a good start to simply be getting fire on the ground, which helps familiarize the public with the concept and application of prescribed burning.

For information on some previous work done at the Waterboro Barrens, read or download one of the following pdfs.

Pitch pine regeneration on scarified, thinned, and control sites at Waterboro Barrens Preserve: research progress report (Auger, et al. October 2004) (1.0 MB pdf)

"Post-fire Stand Development and Potential Fire Behavior for the Waterboro Barrens, Southwestern Maine" (Patterson 1999) (3.9 MB pdf)

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Contacts for more information about work in Southern Maine

T. Parker Schuerman
TNC-Southern Maine
PO Box 840
Moody, ME 04054

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