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Prescribed Burn Training

Prescribed Burn Training

Hosted in Muskogee

Using tools to evaluate wind speed, humidity and temperature are important factors to safely conduct a burn.
Using tools to evaluate wind speed, humidity and temperature are important factors to safely conduct a burn.

NRCS and Oklahoma Conservation Commission employees evaluating fuel loads and identifying concerns to plan a prescribed burn.
NRCS and Oklahoma Conservation Commission employees evaluating fuel loads and identifying concerns to plan a prescribed burn.

Describing the plan to his classmates, Soil Conservationist Charles Rogers points to the boundary where his team will place extra people to help keep an eye on the fire.
Describing the plan to his classmates, Soil Conservationist Charles Rogers points to the boundary where his team will place extra people to help keep an eye on the fire.

Where there is smoke there . . . are small animals running out of the path of the fire. Three bald eagles hovered overhead as Larry Andrews and his crew started the back fire that would act as one of the breaks in vegetation that would help keep his prescribed fire contained to the 40 acres he intended to burn March 17, 2010.

When the proper conditions failed to appear, Larry cancelled two previous burns but this day seemed like it was going to work. Larry has a 10-year Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) plan and contract on more than 100 acres of property that has been in his family for generations. His fields stand out from the neighbors in two ways. There are no crops grown on his land and he has virtually no eastern red cedars. Larry uses prescribed burning to promote plant diversity and healthy wildlife habitat on his land.

“There used to be a time when all we were worried about was fire suppression. If there was a grass fire, we would just put it out as quickly as possible. If we had known at that time that there were things we could do with the grass fires that would help the land, we might have done things differently,” says one of Larry’s friends.

Larry and his friends, experienced volunteer fire fighters, knew about using fire to manage grasslands before his property was enrolled in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) WHIP program. Many of his neighbors are skeptical of the benefits over the risks. Developing a fire plan and knowing the proper conditions, Andrews says, is a big part of reducing those risks.

NRCS provides assistance to landowners like Andrews in developing a prescribed burn plan as part of their overall conservation plan. NRCS employees are required to be certified to plan and assist with prescribed burning. Certification begins with the completion of a two-day training session which was recently held in Muskogee, with 16 participants in attendance.

Day one of the NRCS training course was classroom activity where trainees learned about prescribed burn standards, policy, law, fire behavior, weather, websites to retrieve information, burning techniques, safety, how to develop a burn plan and what is required in that plan. The second day of the training was spent in the field getting familiar with fire suppression tools, weather monitoring and evaluating field conditions used to develop a prescribed burn plan on a Muskogee County Conservation District field of about 157 acres. At the end of day two, trainees presented their burn plans to the instructors.

The purpose of this training is to certify the trainees for planning prescribed burns. The participants will be qualified at the apprentice level. Further experience on three burns will get them certified at a higher level. Certification is required for NRCS employees to speak with landowners about prescribed fire as a part of their management practices.

Prescribed fire clears underbrush, encourages new growth, encourages native grasses and wildlife habitat, gets rid of cedars, prepares sites for harvesting and planting, controls plant disease, reduces wildfire hazards, facilitates distribution of grazing and browsing animals, and restores and maintains ecological sites.

Larry Andrews can’t tell you why, exactly, prescribed fire is such an important management tool for him, he says it just feels right. “You can look out there and just see the difference. There is much greater plant diversity out there.“

After just a couple hours the 40 acres of dry brush has reduced to ash. Ash helps to return valuable nutrients to the soil below. The fire breaks held, the head fire crept into the back fire and snuffed itself out. In just a couple of weeks a green blanket of new growth will cover the black, and the turkeys will show up just in time for hunting season.

By Public Affairs Specialist Crystal Young
NRCS March 2010

Last Modified: 04/08/2010

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