Forest Service targeting 40,000 acres in the state for prescribed burns

Forest Service targeting 40,000 acres in the state for prescribed burns

4January 2005


The U.S. Forest Service conducted a controlled burn last February of 4,000 acres near the Crawford and Washington county border, and a heavy smoke rode the winds northward as far as Bentonville.

This year, the Forest Service is considering scaling back large burns to reduce the smoke released into the atmosphere.

The Forest Service has been conducting prescribed burns for years, said spokesman Scott Roberts.

But it has been doing larger scale burns for the last two or three years, he said.

Besides the nuisance of the smoke, research indicates wood smoke has low amounts of carcinogenic compounds, Roberts said.

The Forest Service does not identify it as a high health risk, he said.

The Forest Service will conduct prescribed burns this winter and spring in districts throughout the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis national forests, according to a news release.

About 40,000 acres will be burned in the state this year, down from about 65,000 last year, said Gregg Vickers, fire planner for the Forest Service.

The reduction in acreage is the result of reduced funding for the prescribed burning program, he said.

The public will be notified through news outlets when burns are scheduled, Roberts said.

Red and orange signs also will be posted around hiking trails and roadways near areas that will be burned to warn of the impending blazes, he said.

The first burns probably won’t take place until later this month, Vickers said. Recent rains pushed back the schedule so that vegetation will have time to dry out.

Prescribed burns are conducted by trained specialists and wildland firefighters who control the intensity of the fire and keep it within defined areas using fire lines cleared of burnable material, according to the Forest Service. The fires are set by hand or by helicopter.

Many of the areas marked for burning already have been prepared with fire lines, awaiting the onset of good weather, Vickers said.

The Forest Service says several conditions — proper humidity, wind speed and direction, temperature, fuel moisture and atmospheric conditions — must be met before prescribed burns can be carried out. “We only conduct prescribed fires when all the conditions indicate there will be minimal impact to the public,” said Jim Burton, fire team leader for the national forests in Arkansas.

Prescribed burns have several benefits, according to the Forest Service. Wildlife thrives in areas recently treated with prescribed fire. The fire recycles nutrients into the soil, promoting healthy plant growth. It also clears shrubs, undergrowth and leaf litter, opening the forest floor and allowing in more sunlight. The new growth provides nourishing food for deer, turkey, quail and doves.

In Arkansas, the fires also burn the large number of dead red oaks killed by parasites in the forests, removing fuel that could feed dangerous wildfires later.

Some environmental groups recognize the advantages of fire as a natural part of the forest’s life cycle and health. “The Sierra Club strongly supports prescribed burns as a way to restore fire’s natural role to the forest,” the club says on its Web site.

The Sierra Club, on its Web site, blamed large wildfires on extensive logging and the Forest Service’s long-held policy of total fire suppression, which has left many forests cluttered with small, highly flammable brush.


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