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.
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
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.