For millions of years, fire has periodically burned the land. Every time fire burns an area of land, the fire manipulates the vegetation on the forest floor. Some species of vegetation are more tolerant of fire than others. Depending on the intensity of the fire and the time of year of the fire, different outcomes are achieved. Below are a few ideas of how prescribed controlled burns can benefit wildlife and habitat.
Time of the Year to Burn and Planned Outcome.
Burns in winter, spring and summer have different outcomes. With the goal of producing high protein and tons of food per acre, we plan burns at different times of the year. A forest with a canopy that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor can produce a lot of good forage for wildlife. Fire tends to kill the top part of the hardwood understory, but not the roots, depending on the intensity of the fire. The sprouts of the roots protected below ground provide excellent forage for most all wildlife. Often, there is more forage on the forest floor than can be grown in a well-managed game patch.
A winter burn will not produce much forage until spring when the soil begins to warm back up. Spring burns, when the forest floor begins to green up, will produce good forage soon after a burn, although there is an abundance of good forage already coming up. Sometimes the management objective may be to kill undesirable hardwood sprouts or to keep the hardwood regeneration from getting too large. The objective is to maintain fresh high protein sprouts on young hardwood regeneration, because as they get larger, the foliage is not as desirable. Spring burns done when the sap is rising is effective in killing hardwood and opening the stand.
Late summer burns have had good success in producing large amounts of high protein forage. Late summer burns come at a time when most of the young forage has been consumed or grown too large. The burn kills the sprouts back, making the root system produce a new growth of high protein forage. I recently saw a study where the consultant monitored deer activity in the timber stand after a spring burn and a late summer burn. The deer activity in the late summer burn was considerably more active than the spring burn. This was a planned outcome intended to stimulate forage in late summer and early fall in this area.
These are a few management prescriptions and planned outcomes for utilizing fire to manipulate habitat. We will post another article pertaining to where to burn, size of area, intensity of burn, how often to burn and a few other variables. A good plan and implementing it is always a positive process in managing your forest and wildlife and a means of being a great steward of this wonderful natural resource.