Wildfires on the West Coast seem to be in the news every year due to low humidity, hot weather, and gusting Santa Ana winds. The destruction and devastation is unbelievable, with damages totaling billions of dollars. This certainly makes us all think about our land on the east coast and how to prevent Wildfires.
The Southeastern U.S. Environment
Our environment and topography are different than the west coast though. Our land in the Southeast is divided, with many streams and wetlands, making us less susceptible to the large fires. The mountainous dry, windy, terrain of the west is quite difficult to manage. There are things we can do to help protect our land and timber on the east coast from damage and loss from wildfire.
How Prescribed Burns Help the Land
I do not think I am qualified to make suggestions for the West Coast, but I do have a little experience in land management on the east coast, and more specific to Georgia and South Carolina. Fire is one of the many tools we use in land management and is an efficient tool when used correctly. Below are a few of the benefits of managed prescribed burns:
- Reduction of fuel/litter on the forest floor
- Significantly reduced risk of excessively hot and uncontrollable forest wildfires
- Reduces unwanted growth of undesirable species of trees in timber stands
- Maintain open forest floor
- Promotes sprouting of forbes, legumes, and other high value browse and food source for wildlife
- Creates and maintains critical habitat for many wildlife species
- Creates and maintains an aesthetically pleasing view of a well-managed forest
- Access within the forest with a good, prescribed burn management plan makes it much easier to traverse, manage, hunt, view and inspect your investment
As you can see, there are many benefits of the use of controlled burns. A good burn is a beautiful site once completed successfully. In the spring when the new high protein growth emerges, the woods look fresh, clean, and green.
Prescribed Burning Basics
There are many factors necessary to be able to SAFELY prescribe burn your forest. Foresters and land managers have extensive training and knowledge of the woods, weather and environment enabling them to be able to safely prescribe burn, not damage the forest and achieve the desired outcome. Some key factors to consider in implementing a prescribed burn are:
- Develop a plan with a desired outcome
- Have extensive network of good firebreaks
- Choose a day with the proper or desired weather, taking into account:
- Wind Direction – west winds are more predictable and steadier
- Wind Speed – you need some wind but not excessive
- Humidity must be correct to achieve desired outcome and manage risk – I do not burn with less than 20% humidity because fire jumps across firebreaks
- Fuel and ground moisture
- Have the necessary equipment on site to help control fire
- Have adequate personnel to help you manage burn
- Have a plan in case fire gets out of the desired burn area
There are many factors involved in preparation and making certain you will achieve the desired outcome. Planning and experience are essential.
Prescribed Burning in the Southeast
We have a different environment in the Southeast opposed to the West Coast. As mentioned, we have different terrain with good accessibility (roads). We also have the State Forestry Commission which is a huge benefit to landowners in Georgia and South Carolina. They do a fantastic job of fire protection and have excellent equipment to manage and fight wildfire, as well as providing a huge knowledge base to assist landowners. If you own land, you need to contact with your local Forestry Commission office. They are a great asset for you to utilize.
One reason why I am so proactive on having good, wide road systems on your land is specifically for fire protection. There are many reasons for a good road system. But fire protection and prescribed burning are two of the top reasons for good access to and on your property.
Finally, a good burning program promotes good forestry and wildlife management. Mother Nature burns periodically, but I prefer to help her burn a little more frequently to achieve a more managed specific outcome.