We walked through a sea of waist-high partridge pea and fire kissed pines, all smiles, trailing a menagerie of fine bird dogs working hard to find a covey of wild birds. As we moved along, one of our party summed up what made the place such a fabulous location for quail; “Fire equals birds; it makes all the difference!”
On the site we were hunting, fire had been used continuously for decades as the primary management tool, and it produced birds year in and year out. Areas burned within a couple of years produced coveys and where fire was absent for too long there were few, if any, birds to be found.
Fire is a natural component of Southern forests (in particular longleaf pine ecosystems). It has long been a part of land management in the region and continues to be one of the best tools a landowner can utilize to improve their property. Prescribed burns, when conducted appropriately, can benefit wildlife of many different species, improve plant diversity and growth, reduce fuel load and risk of wildfire, and can improve the aesthetics and appeal of a property.
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Developing A Burn Plan
First and foremost, a landowner needs to identify what the goals are for their property. Once goals are identified, a burn plan can be considered as part of an overall land management plan to help achieve long-term outcomes for a property.
Some of the most significant questions with respect to the application of fire are the frequency to burn, time or season to burn, and the size or acreage to be burned. Some additional considerations that must be examined prior to implementing prescribed fire are financial cost, property layout/configuration (presence or absence of fire breaks and fire barriers), and the effects or impact of smoke on the surrounding area. Property proximity to more densely populated areas doesn’t necessarily preclude burning but may entail a more complex plan for successful implementation.
Additional Research and Information Resources
The place to start if you have questions about conducting controlled burns is with your state forestry service. State forest services can answer many of your questions to help you develop your burn plan and can also assist in conducting or setting up a controlled burn in a legal and responsible manner. State forestry input and advice helps ensure that you have the appropriate credentials, certifications, and people in place to conduct prescribed burning on your property. Additional resources for research and long term studies with fire application include Tall Timbers Research Station as well as colleges and universities with forestry and wildlife management departments.
The use of fire continues to be studied and refined, especially with respect to how it affects broader ecosystems and long-term site management. However, despite a long-term history of use of fire in the region, fire is arguably an underutilized tool when you consider the amount of acreage that could benefit from prescribed burning that never gets burned or is burned very infrequently. Consider adding prescribed burns to your list of management tools and see how fire can improve your property. Fire could just make all the difference for your land!