Burning to protect the land

Mar. 01, 2014 @ 05:18 PM

For a tree farmer like Preston Floyd, controlled burns are vital to maintaining his land.

“There is a big difference between a prescribed burn that is carefully orchestrated and when someone tosses a lit cigarette into dry leaves,” he said. “A prescribed burn is a great thing, and it benefits us all. It’s not something we should be afraid of.”

Floyd burned about 85 acres on Friday, and he does about 350 acres in a typical year.

Brad Manring, a ranger for the Vance County Forest Service, said there are several different benefits to a prescribed burn every three to five years.

He said Forest Services usually burns anywhere from 100 to 600 acres in a typical year in Vance County.

“The most prominent benefit to burning this time of year is hazard reduction because if you burn it once, it won’t burn again,” he said.

A prescribed burn lowers the fuel loading, which reduces the chance for a destructive wildfire.

Manring said burning also benefits wildlife because the litter layer of pine needles and leaves that accumulates on the forest floor blocks sunlight from the soil.

But burning the litter layer allows the sun to reach the soil, which causes the seeds to germinate and produces vegetation for wildlife to consume.

“Even though you are doing it for hazard reduction, you are still getting benefits for wildlife, too,” Manring said.

Floyd said, based on his experience, tree farmers can increase their carrying capacity for wildlife three-fold if they burn the litter layer.

“The soil needs a certain temperature to germinate seeds in the spring, and if it has a blanket of litter layer, it won’t get to that temperature,” he said.

When Manring and other rangers conduct a prescribed burn, they have to go through a series of precautionary procedures.

“First thing we do is install fire breaks with a bulldozer, and then we build a fire line that resembles a wood road around the area we intend to burn and make sure it is clear of any debris,” Manring said. “We start on down wind and let the fire burn into wind.”

He said it is always a possibility the fire might get out of control, but they take every measure to prevent that from happening.

“A lot of planning goes into a burn, and making sure weather parameters are exactly where we need them to be so we are not fighting fires,” he said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.