At a wildlife seminar we held a couple weeks ago, one of our speakers focused on the benefits of fire for wildlife.
Fire, contained and controlled, can be an effective tool in our rural land for a number of reasons. Not only can wildlife benefit, but timber and pastures can benefit with improved health and productivity as well as the safety of our forested and open lands.
Now I know that fires may cause alarm for a number of folks. The key is understanding the difference between wildfire and prescribed fire. Let compare fire with drugs. There are some drugs that save lives and increase the quality of life for numerous individuals. And there are other drugs that destroy lives, ruin families and create burdens on our society.
The same is true of fire.
Prescribed fires are not a “wild fire” that runs reckless, but a fire that has been decided upon to improve a tract of land, much like good medicine is. Prescribed fires have a purpose, laid out with exact borders, a crew to monitor, equipment to control it, a set weather pattern that it will operate under, and preparation already in place on site in the event it tries to cross a fire break.
Fire is a natural ecological factor throughout Texas before European settlement. Fire effectively suppresses most shrub-like plants while encouraging grass and forb growth. As a result, sound timber, livestock and wildlife management must accompany the use of fire if their full potential is to be realized.
Native Americans used fire to attract grazing animals. Areas once burned will thrive with lush new vegetative growth and attract and benefit wildlife.
Before the advent of brush mowing tractors and herbicides, fire was a key element for settlers to control vegetation.
We know all too well the images on the news of wildfires and the destruction it can cause. Emergency management personnel are called in after a fire is out of control to battle fires started in often very dry conditions with an incredible fuel load. What often happens is the loss of homes and property and even the loss of lives.
What is ignored or simply untold is the decades of un-natural fire suppression contributed to the severity of the blaze. Remember Bastrop State Park? Under natural conditions the land would have burned many times over the years. Each time the fuel load
would have been eliminated and never allowed to build up. Instead, fuels could build tremendously and once it did burn, it destroyed everything in its path.
Prescribed fires follow guidelines that establish the conditions and manner under which fire will be applied on a specific area to accomplish specific management and ecological objectives. This contrasts with wildfires that can occur any time fuels will burn, often under extremely hazardous conditions. The conditions selected for a prescribed burn (season, vegetation growth stage and weather factors) must be conducive to safe and effective burning. Management objectives determine the fire characteristics needed to maximize benefits, minimize damage and conduct a safe burn.
If you are interested in learning more, there are state agencies and professionals to help landowners who want to use this tool for the benefit of agricultural, timber and wildlife. Call the Texas A&M Forest Service for a list of professional foresters you can hire. Call the Texas Department of Agriculture for training opportunities for prescribed fire courses, call the Texas Parks and Wildlife and ask about their prescribed fire trailer that has equipment needed to conduct a burn successfully, and look for demonstrations and seminars with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
A great website to start at is the Prescribed Burn Alliance of Texas. You can find them online at pbatexas.org.
Perhaps the best land steward in our area to use prescribed burns is the US Forest Service. As you drive through the national forests, look at how open and clear the land is. If you study the vegetation on their sites that are managed, you will see an obvious and marked improvement.
Improvements that we can be proud of and conduct on private lands to improve our property and reduce the incidence of destructive wildfire in the future.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.