Woodland burning has many benefits
Submitted by Ethan Newman, Habitat Specialist with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever
When prescribed fire is mentioned, many picture burning a grass or fallow field. However, there are many more ecosystems that can benefit from this management practice.
In particular, prescribed fire can be utilized and is very beneficial in timber dominated stands. These particular fires help promote regrowth of understory vegetation by eliminating dense layers of leaf litter and allowing sunlight to reach the ground. The new regrowth of herbaceous and woody vegetation will ultimately supply food and cover for many species of wildlife such as white-tailed deer.
Timber burning also increases soil health by recycling nutrients back into the ground, making the nutrients more readily available to plants during the growing season. An additional benefit to woodland burning is that removing the buildup of dead fuels will reduce the likelihood of a wildfire and will lower the fire intensity if one should occur.
Many people want to manage their woodlands for tree species that have the best wildlife benefits. More often than not, oak species are at the top of this list.
Oaks tend to be slow growing trees and, therefore, young saplings can be shaded out and outcompeted by faster growing species. Prescribed fire can be used in these situations as a “selective” management tool. Generally, oaks have thick bark that has evolved with fire.
While less desirable, thin barked species, such as maples, do not do well with fire. Therefore, prescribed fire can be implemented to thin out the undesirable trees and shrubs over time while promoting the growth of the oaks.
In conclusion, prescribed fire is one of many tools that can be utilized to benefit wildlife habitat and woodland health. Removing years of leaf litter on the ground will spark growth of many different herbaceous species which otherwise would be left dormant and unavailable to wildlife.
Not only does fire promote growth of herbaceous species, fire can be used to selectively thin out undesirable tree species while promoting desirables. This particular management practice can deliver positive results and reach land owner/manager objectives over time as long as fire is implemented when needed.
Prescribed fire is not a “silver bullet” but it is an extremely useful management tool that can be utilized in many different ecosystems.