2009-07-09 / General Stories

The Importance and Effects of Fire

Most people think that fire on the landscape is a bad thing. Fire can destroy homes, livestock, fences, and structures. When most people look at an area that has been burned, they see a blackened picture devoid of vegetation or wildlife. Most of us see the sad baby bear, a tear tracking down one cheek, and hear "only you can prevent forest fires." There are no doubts a wild fire that threatens home and welfare is something we want to avoid, but there are some awesome benefits that can be realized from prescribed fires.

Most of Texas evolved with fire as part of the natural system. Many of the plants around us respond favorably to periodic fires. Before European man became dominant on the landscape, periodic fires kept the prairies open and brush species were not nearly as abundant as they are now. Fire consumed the thatch that develops on the prairie grass landscape, exposing the bare soil underneath to sunlight, thus promoting the germination of different annuals. There was also a fertilizer effect on the grass making it much more palatable and higher in quality.

This is not just a tool for those interested in wildlife management, but livestock producers can benefit from this tool also. As mentioned above, all grasses respond favorably to fire whether it is native grasses or improved pastures. Palatability and protein content increases in the grass after a fire. There are numerous studies showing the increased protein content of forage post-fire and the increased gains in livestock grazing forage after a burn.

We can realize these same benefits from fire today by employing this tool under certain parameters or prescribed conditions. Prescribed burning is one of the most cost effective tools a landowner or manager has in his tool box, if he is interested in brush control, increasing plant diversity, and increasing grass and plant nutritional value. Price the

cost of herbicides and application to control brush or other invasive species. Price the cost of mechanical means such as dozer work. The cost to create fire

breaks, equipment to conduct

a prescribed burn, and manpower makes prescribed burning a comparatively cheap alternative.

The key is knowledge of the safe parameters or conditions in which to implement a prescribed burn. Although a fire escaping is always a huge concern, with today's increased population, smoke management should also be foremost on the minds of landowners initiating a prescribed burn.

There should be some prescribed burning workshops/ seminars available in your area over the course of this winter. Texas Parks and Wildlife, the NRCS, and Texas Agrilife promote this tool for habitat management and range management, and there should be local education/training opportunities.

If you have any questions or would like more information contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Biologist at http:// www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wildlifebiologist.

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