Walk on the Wild Side

Brad Harvey: Jump start your management plan with fire

January 29, 2014 

Even though many hunters put thoughts of deer on hold as soon as January hits, the first quarter of the year is prime time for action.

On the surface, one of these beneficial actions sounds rather crazy to the uninformed.

Prescribed fire, also called controlled burning, has been used for centuries to improve habitat, remove debris and other natural fuels that can feed wildfires and improve timber stands.

Prescribed fire can best be defined as an intentionally set, carefully managed, cool burning fire that stays low to the ground and brings with it many benefits.

The first of these, and most obvious, is that it removes the underbrush. But it also does a great job of controlling nuisance trees, such as cedars, which suck nutrients from the soil and deters the growth of those plants which provide good browse for the native wildlife.

After a burn, the rush of new growth provides a buffet for the inhabitants of the forest.

The deer are joined by doves, quail, wild turkeys and every other critter of the forest to the feast.

But the most immediately recognizable benefit of prescribed fire is the overall appearance of the property.

Did you catch my use of the term “cool burning?” Sounds like a whale of an oxymoron doesn’t it?

While it’s true that none of us have ever gotten a chill from standing too close to a fire, a cool burning fire is a mix of gasoline and diesel fuel which allows the “hotness” or “coolness” of a fire to be manipulated by its mixture. More gas burns hotter and more diesel burns cooler. A drip torch is used to light the fire in a line that will enable it to burn in a specific direction.

Done properly, all of this results in a fire that, generally, will stay low to the ground and not climb the trees.

The first step to successful forest management is a good analysis of your land. This can be done by calling the South Carolina Forestry Commission and requesting the help of a forester. He or she will come to your property, free of charge, and provide you with a written plan of action. If they are in agreement that a burn would be beneficial, it’s then time to take the next step.

Controlled burning is not a task to be taken lightly. To be truly controlled, fire breaks must be established on the property and a burning line determined . Natural breaks, such as creeks, logging roads and cultivated fields are great barriers, but others will probably be needed by using a tractor and disc harrow to create dirt strips.

Once all of the prep work is completed, it’s time to watch the weather for the right conditions for burning. Your forester can explain the perfect conditions in great detail but they take into account such things as soil moisture, humidity and wind speed and direction.

When the weather has decided to cooperate, most burns are started later in the morning when the dew has disappeared. A burn crew, consisting of a burning boss and several crew members, will carry out the job.

Now, here’s the beauty of this. You, the landowner, don’t have to know anything about performing a controlled burn. For a minimal charge, the Forestry Commission can construct firebreaks and conduct the prescribed burn for you. Prices for cutting fire breaks vary, with a base fee of $140 for the first hour of work and $85 per hour thereafter and they will perform the burn for a nominal fee that typically runs less than $20 per acre.

Even better, there are programs available that provide financial assistance to qualifying landowners. A state forester can make you aware of these.

Oh, and one more thing. If the thought of “smoking out” your neighbors is a concern, you’ll be happy to know that a commission study found that 76 percent of the public is fine with a little smoke as long as it doesn’t cause health concerns. Having witnessed the process of a controlled burn on our property, I can assure you that the amount of smoke actually witnessed is no where close to what most folks have pictured in their heads.

For information, call the S.C. Forestry Commission at 803-896-8800 or visit www.state.sc.us/forest/index.htm.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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