USA — How many times have you seen a field or pasture that was accidentally caught on fire by a passing motorist? Have you ever noticed the ecological change that has taken place? Fires have made ecological changes for thousands of years. Native Americans used fires to reduce vegetation and to create space for crops. For years landowners practiced intensive fire suppression and the results have been an accumulation of brush and undesirable plants.
However, in the past decade or so, land managers are returning to fire to accomplish many of the same benefits that were historically provided by natural fires by implementing prescribed burns.
A prescribed burn is the planned and deliberate application of fire as a management tool for land stewardship. Unlike wildfires, prescribed burns are conducted under predetermined environmental conditions to achieve specific resource management goals and objectives. Wildfires can occur any time fuels will burn and often under very hazardous conditions. But with prescribed burning, conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, fuel moisture and condition of vegetation are carefully selected to ensure a safe and effective burn designed to maximize desired benefits. Precautions, such as adequate firebreaks and fire control equipment, are taken to ensure that the fire burns only within the predetermined area to be treated.
Fire plays an important role in most ecosystems and is a vital component of ecosystem function. Because fire was a natural factor on most Texas rangelands and forestlands before European settlement, native vegetation and wildlife are well adapted to burning. Fire effectively suppresses many woody plant species while encouraging grass and for growth beneficial to livestock and wildlife. Sound range, livestock and wildlife management must accompany the use of fire for maximum benefits to be realized.
Prescribed burning is most often used to accomplish objectives such as:
–Increase production of desired grasses, forbs and woody plants;
–Improve watershed function resulting in increased water quantity and quality;
–Suppression and management of woody species, cacti and invasive plants;
–Improve forage and browse quality and/or palatability;
–Increase availability of desirable forage and browse plants;
–Achieve desired composition of grasses, forbs and woody plants;
–Provide for better grazing distribution of livestock;
–Improve animal performance and achieve control of certain parasites and pests;
–Enhance nutrient cycling;
–Removal of “thatch” over accumulation of vegetation;
–Reduce hazardous fuel loads;
–Improve wildlife habitat.
Each management objective requires a particular set of conditions for burning and a specific type of fire to achieve the desired response. Objectives should be carefully evaluated in order to develop a fire plan that will achieve the desired results.
Landowners in the Texoma area will now have the opportunity to take a closer look at this land management strategy on Dec. 16 in Henrietta. Charlie Newberry, of the Texas Parks & Wildlife, and Missy Hodgin, Clay County Extension agent, have put together a prescribed burn workshop for Dec. 16 at the Pioneer Hall in Henrietta beginning at 8 a.m. The meeting will discuss vegetative response to burning, state prescribed burn policy, planning a prescribed burn and field demonstrations on burning techniques.
An expert slate of speakers will be on hand from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Established Burn Associations.