Fire is often thought of as a destructive force, but it has been used for thousands of years to rejuvenate and improve hunting areas. To get an idea of how fire can improve wildlife habitat and encourage the growth of target species I spoke with Dr. Benjamin Jones of the Pennsylvania Game Commision. Dr. Jones is the Chief of the PA Game Commission’s habitat division. Part of that role includes the duty of fire program manager. He’s also the communications chairman of the PA Prescribed Fire Council. Jones has logged over 500 hours on prescribed burns in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. Here’s a small portion of what he has learned.
Why Use Fire?
Jones said, “Fire is the one thing you can use to manage the widest variety of habitats. Fire can be used to manage grass fields to keep herbacious shrubs from coming in. We can also use prescribed fire to make sure we’re keeping oak and oak forests. Oak is an extremely important wildlife tree and fire evolved with oak and fire is absolutely necessary to keep oak.”
Fire is more efficient than other habitat control methods like mowing or chemical treatments.
What Tools Do You Need?
To safely complete a burn on your property, you’ll need these tools.
1. A Burn Plan—If you are planning on burning an area larger than your lawn, you’d better contact the authorities. A burn plan will include information on the area being burned, weather conditions required for the burn, and the level of training of people working on the burn.
2. Trained Personnel—Even prescribed burns can get out of hand. If yours does, have the man power and tools to put it out. Everyone working on a prescribed burn should have received specialized training to ensure safety and success.
3. Drip torches fueled by a 3/1 diesel to gas ratio are use to ignite the fires. Flame retardant clothing, hand tools, and water tanks on trucks and UTVs are necessary for controlling prescribed burns.
Does Burning Harm Timber and Wildlife?
Jones said that “direct impacts to wildlife are minimal and impacts to wildlife habitat, generally are all positive. Maple and birch [trees] are very fire intolerant.So when fire is not in the picture, they quickly out-compete oaks. Fire tolerant species are extremely valuable, like oaks, pitch pine, scrub oak and lots of native grasses.”
Studies have shown a 400 to 500% increase in deer browse in recently burned areas. What deer hunter can argue with that?
A common misconception is that prescribed burns performed in the spring burn all the turkey nests. Jones said, “In Mississippi, we found that fire didn’t actually burn up some of the nests. In the leaf litter where the fire was creeping real slow, sometimes the nests weren’t even harmed. The other scenario is that [the turkeys] will re-nest.”
Jones’ work in Mississippi and other places led him to conclude that prescribed burns “weren’t having a broad scale negative impact, but the habitat improvements, especially for turkey broods, were really a huge benefit.”
How to Conduct a Prescribed Burn on Your Property
Unless you have had extensive training and experience with prescribed burning, you will need to contact a contractor to burn on your property.
Contractors can help you come up with and complete a burn plan, obtain the necessary permits, and, of course, perform the burn itself.
To learn more about prescribed burns, the benefits of burning, and how you can complete a burn on your property, visit paprescribedfire.org. There you’ll find photos, videos, and articles to help you make an informed decision on whether or not a prescribed burn is right for you and your property.