Fire Drill

Prescribed Burns- an Old School Tool
BY Coty Bennett

Fire! Burning is a “primitive tool” used in the modern gamekeeper’s “bag of tricks.” Every year the mediation of hearing the John Deere fire up during the first weekend of planting is a hallowed tradition that never gets old to those of us who live the “gamekeeper lifestyle.” But for some, the proverbial “grand event,” is the lighting of the flame! A prescribed burn.

Early Native Americans took first glance at its benefits and ability to produce positive change with minimum effort throughout the landscape. Its low-labor qualities produced ease of access throughout the terrain, created new, more prolific vegetation growth, and proved to attract more game. Ranch owners also learned to set fire to their pastures to maintain high quality forage for their cattle and assist in clearing areas and keeping the forest from invading their pastures. Successful burns can also reduce fire hazards, improve site preparation, dispose of logging debris, improve access and significantly improve the wildlife production. Burns can be extremely beneficial to wildlife habitat.

Fire is often used in the mid-western states for range management control of unwanted invasive species and improving forage quality and quantity for wildlife and livestock. Periodic burning can be principally important for wildlife where shortleaf, slash, or loblolly pine is the primary overstory species. Popularity has risen for the use of this complex tool within the southeast where pine plantations dominate the landscape.

So how do you know you need to burn? It is probably a good idea to consult a professional forester, ask your local D.N.R. and consult the local fire department (where applicable). Is a controlled burn suitable for all management plans? If I burn, how long does it last and do I need to do it again?

Prescribed burns are “prescribed” because they should be done by somebody who has done it before or at the very least – a plan should be drawn up, proper permits should be obtained (where needed) and safety should be the first priority. You’re messin’ with “fire,” literally! Local fire departments should be informed and a means to put out large fires should be close at hand. Wind direction and speed, humidity, time of year and other elements need to be calculated and sound plans formed.

A burn needs a complex management plan. Property layout, topography, and land owner objectives are only a few considerations when aligning a prescription. When considering the high-risk of fire, contributing factors such as relative humidity, transport winds, fuel loads, and wind speeds have to be considered before the lighting of the flame is an option. These contributing factors require most states to have a prescribed burn manager required to associate these variables to the prescription process. Whether a land owner is constructing plans for a burn to improve aesthetics or enhance wildlife benefits, a competent burn manager is a necessity in the process.

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