Prescribed Burns Explained
6/11/2014 1:13 PM
Why Does the Wildlife Commission Conduct Prescribed Burns?
The Wildlife Commission conducts prescribed burns to improve wildlife habitat. In North Carolina, prescribed burning most commonly is conducted between January and March, when most trees are less active metabolically. However, winter burns do not completely kill young hardwoods, and they promote resprouting from the base of each plant’s stem. Therefore, repeated burns conducted during the growing season (spring) eventually kill hardwood stems, allowing a diversity of grasses, herbs, and wildflowers to develop. These herbaceous plants typically are more valuable to wildlife than the hardwood sprouts.
Why does the Wildlife Commission Conduct Prescribed Burns during Hunting Season (spring)?
We are often asked why we conduct prescribed burns when we do, particularly during hunting season, and in the early spring when ground nesting critters like wild turkey are nesting.
While we acknowledge that some nests are consumed as a result of spring burning, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the short-term losses.
Animals may be temporarily displaced following a prescribed burn, but most can avoid direct harm from fire. Deer, foxes, and bobcats run; birds and bats fly; and mice, lizards, snakes, and salamanders go underground into burrows or under rocks and fallen logs as a fire approaches.
Some animals, such as slow-moving turtles and snakes, can be killed during a wildfire or prescribed burn. However, many turtles survive fires by burrowing underground or using their shells to protect themselves.
Nestlings or young birds are most vulnerable to fires.
Staff uses different types of fires, such as flanking fire, a backing fire or a head fire, but staff never completely rings an area with an intense, fast-moving fire because the fire could become too intense and not leave pathways for wildlife to escape.
The overall benefit wildlife receive from habitat diversity by burning far outweighs any wildlife loss. Ironically, the absence of fire may cause greater harm to wildlife. Habitat changes resulting from fire exclusion can result in low reproduction and eventual displacement of some wildlife. Today, many wildlife species are imperiled by habitat changes resulting from too little burning.
Editor’s Note: The text above is taken from the Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State University, which has conducted studies on the effects of prescribed burns on wildlife. Learn more by reading the complete publication, “Using Fire to Improve Wildlife Habitat,” (PDF): http://tinyurl.com/ljmbybd