Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prescribed fires bring ecological advantages

DAISY, MO (KRCU) - Birds chirping, dogs barking, sun shining, breeze blowing; spring had finally arrived at Ed Graves' farm just outside of Daisy, Missouri.

Listen to the story.

Graves is originally from the St. Louis area where he worked in law enforcement for 30 years before moving to Southeast Missouri five years ago when his wife retired. After searching all over the state, they finally decided on Southeast Missouri to enjoy retirement and a past time they've shared for years.

"For 30 years we've been running bird dogs, Brittanies,” Graves says. “And I field trial them and train them, so we were looking for an area where we could help out the quail population and in turn help the dogs."

Graves and local private lands conservationists had been watching weather patterns and forecasts for weeks, trying to find a day with ideal temperature, humidity, and wind to safely conduct a prescribed burn. Finally that day presented itself in the form of a beautifully balmy, typical Southeast Missouri April day.

Before the burn was to be conducted, Graves and the conservationists put together a burn plan, which is basically a short, how-to document on how to conduct a burn, according to private lands conservation David Hasenbeck with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“It's based upon the management goals we want to achieve and it basically lists safe weather parameters and safe conditions that we want to burn under to accomplish the goals of the fire,” Hasenbeck says.

The burn plan for the Graves' farm was fairly simple: Remove all unwanted vegetation, allowing new, more desirable vegetation to take its place which would foster an ideal habitat for quail.

Prescribed fires destroy undesirable species of grass such as fescue and debris such as leaf liter while helping native grasses to flourish.

Wildlife benefit from prescribed burns, according to Hasenbeck. Quail, deer, and turkeys are just a few species that thrive in areas that practice prescribed burns periodically. That’s why Graves decided to conduct a burn on his land.

“It’s a necessary thing to do,” Graves says. “It was done long before we ever got here.”

Fire gets rid of leaf liter and dead plants that can be found on the forest floor. Removing dead ground cover exposes seeds and nuts, allowing wildlife better access to these food sources. Fire also helps eliminate hardwood saplings, allowing more light to penetrate to the forest floor which encourages native grasses to grow.

Hasenbeck, is a firm believer in the effectiveness of a prescribed burn but he believes that a healthy level of respect fire's power is essential.

“Prescribed fire is probably the lowest cost and biggest bang for your effort management tool that you can do in the Southern Ozarks,” he says. “It's applicable to a lot of different situations but once again it just comes with some risk and you need to be aware of those risks prior to conducting the burn.”

While prescribed fires are excellent management tools, they can also become dangerous very quickly. Burning on days when the weather conditions are not ideal or burning without enough resources or people can cause a prescribed fire to become a wildfire.

Joe Garvey is the Forestry Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation and he knows all too well about the possible dangers of a prescribed burn.

“A prescribed fire is just a wildfire kind of contained,” Garvey cautions. “Sooner or later one could get away from you and that’s a humbling experience. Once you light that thing extreme caution and respect is paramount.”

Fortunately, all the proper precautions were taken and the burn at the Graves' farm was successful. No one was injured and fresh new grasses and wildlife should be enjoying the newly cleared land in just a few weeks time.

Katie Long, KRCU


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