WCU natural resources students conducting research for their capstone course – (from left) Alex Percival, Ben Wirtel, Brandon Fritz and Andrew Cornelius – measure the amount of leaf litter and duff that was consumed during the Dick’s Creek fire.

Dick’s Creek fire site

Students from Western Carolina University’s Natural Resource Conservation and Management Program are compiling and analyzing data they collected at the site of a wildfire that scorched part of the Dick’s Creek drainage area near Dillsboro last fall.

Twenty-three students in a spring capstone course have been focusing their attention on four post-fire aspects of the ecosystem – forest composition, wildlife habitat, soil and water, said Peter Bates, associate professor in the program.

The Dick’s Creek fire, which burned more than 700 acres, was part of a spate of drought-fueled wildfires that plagued Western North Carolina during late fall. The Dick’s Creek fire was the closest major woodland blaze to the WCU campus.

“Every year, we want our students to have a chance to work on a real natural resource management problem,” Bates said. “Given the fall fire season that we had and the proximity of the Dick’s Creek fire, we thought this would provide a good opportunity to study the potential effects of the fire. The students draw on things they’ve learned throughout the curriculum, so it is a good test.”

The students separated into smaller groups to work on all aspects of the project including the four focus areas, equipment needs, geo-spatial mapping and preparation of the final report. “Faculty members monitored what was done, but it was very much a student project,” Bates said.

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