USA — One of the most important forest-management and wildfire-prevention tools used by the state Division of Forestry is prescribed, or controlled, burning.
Our late-summer and early-fall precipitation amounts have provided all of us with a much overdue respite to our dry land and forest conditions, and we at the Withlacoochee Forestry Center are more comfortable with commencing our fall/winter prescribed-burn program.
Many private contractors who are certified by the Division of Forestry as prescribed-burn managers also increase their land-clearing operations at this time. We recognize the importance of keeping citizens aware of this program and providing them with adequate information on why and how we conduct controlled-burn operations.
As a forest land-management tool, prescribed fire is used to restore and maintain fire-dependent ecosystems, enhance forest health, improve wildlife habitat and prevent wildfire by reducing hazardous fuels. A closely controlled burning of vegetation taking into consideration fuel type, fuel moisture, relative humidity, air temperature, wind speed, wind direction and other atmospheric conditions minimizes adverse impacts on people.
Prescribed fires must meet criteria to be authorized by the Division of Forestry, including acquiring daily authorization by the local division office, establishing fire breaks around the burn area and ensuring that sufficient personnel and fire-suppression equipment are on site for controlling the fire.
Fires must be controlled within the boundary of the authorized area and responsible persons must remain at the burn site to contain the fire. Daytime controlled-burn operations commence after 9 a.m. with fire spread contained within one hour after sunset. Night controlled-burn operations are occasionally conducted to take advantage of higher relative humidity and light wind conditions. They can be conducted from one hour prior to sunset until 9 a.m. with fire spread contained by that time.
Public concerns regarding smoke created by prescribed fire are a priority to the Division of Forestry. Wind-direction predictions are tested before burning to ensure that fires will not cause adverse air-quality intrusions over urban areas or create visibility problems on roadways. As a result of careful pre-planning, smoke from prescription burns presents fewer problems than that of a wildfire.
Because of Florida’s long history of lightning fires, our natural systems depend on periodic fires to remain healthy. Research shows that prescribed fires are a sound and responsible way to protect people and their homes and to ensure the ecological health of fire-affected landscapes.
For example, studies show that the populations of many animal species, including bobwhite quail, turkey, scrub-jay, Florida black bear, gopher tortoise and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker increase in numbers following a regimented prescribed-burn campaign because of the resulting improved habitat.
We recognize that we must work together to forge long-term solutions as Florida’s communities expand, with increasing numbers of communities bordering wild land regions.
We must follow “best-practice” approaches to minimize the risk of wildfires to our communities and maintain the health of our state forests and wildlife. When considering the devastating impact of uncontrolled wildfires, prescribed burning is a proven long-term solution to protecting our natural resources and Florida’s citizens.
Written by Don Ruths, wildfire-mitigation specialist with the state Division of Forestry’s Withlacoochee Forestry Center