Prescribed fire as part of an overall deer habitat plan (Episode 20 Transcript)

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WOODS: It’s March 31st.  We’re here at The Proving Grounds and yesterday, we conducted this, this fire, prescribed burn that you see all the soot and ashes from.  Our objective here was to set back succession.  The state of succession.  You can see all these sweet gum saplings had grown head high or higher or so and they were shading out any chance of forbs or native grass growing in here and they were not providing cover or food, so it was a biological desert for our habitat.  We could have used herbicide, uh, but I chose, because of some of the surrounding crops and what-not, to use the natural method of prescribed fire.

WOODS: Just a moment here.  God, just give us wisdom and safety today as we burn and try to help your Creation.  Protect our families wherever they are.  In Christ’s name, we pray.  Amen.

WOODS: All right.  Brad or Bill, does one guy want to…  (fade)

WOODS: So, our objective was to get the fire hot enough in six inches to a foot off the ground to literally girdle by heat this thin bark tree.  These young trees have thin bark and it boils the sap that’s started to rise in these trees and bust all those cells and in effect, top kills these plants.  Now, heat rises, so an inch above the soil level, that heat’s not affecting the root system of this tree and there’s no doubt, unfortunately, that it will germinate back.  But by running a pretty hot fire through here, we will keep all these trees at this level now and give a chance for the native grass seeds and the native forbs seeds that are in this soil to be exposed by removing the leaf litter, germinate and compete with these trees.

WOODS: Do not burn without a professional on site.  You can take classes, take courses, but your first burn or two, you need to have someone out there from an agency or wherever that knows what they're doing.  And guys, let’s go drop a match.

WOODS: You got the humidity gauge with you, Brad?

So, anytime you're below 35, means the fire will carry really well.  There’s not much moisture in the matter, the dry matter out there.  These saplings will sprout back.  We burn on about a three-year rotation, setting those saplings back in age in succession.  To kill the saplings, we got to go to herbicide.  And I’ve opted to use fire because it’s less expensive and more natural than herbicide in this particular environment.  In other environments, I use herbicide all the time.  I’m very pro-herbicide.  On this situation, the doctor’s written a prescription to use fire, so let’s start one up.

WOODS: Always make sure that thing is pointed into the fire, because boy, one accident and you're chasing to midnight.

WOODS: One thing about fire is you never want to accidentally start the other side because then the race is on.  So, I’m gonna set my drip torch down very secure.  And kind of point it towards the interior in case flame happens to blow out of there.  Sometimes you get hot, little leak out and jump across the line.  And I’m always walking.  I’m always double checking behind, not staring at the fire, but looking on this side to make sure there’s nothing ignited over here.  We don’t want any flame over here.

WOODS: One thing about doing prescribed fire on land you hunt, you really learn the wind currents.  Because as we go down through here, you know, up on top, the wind’s blowing one way.  And when we get in the bottom, I promise you now, it’ll switch and be going another way.  The thermals and wind currents is the toughest thing about deer hunting, especially if you're a bow hunter.  And smoke is the best indicator of wind currents.

WOODS: I can tell the humidity’s dropping.  My torch is starting to spew out.

Okay.  Got a good favorable wind right now.  We’re going to light some up.  So far, so good.  We’re just burning out our line.  We’ve blown a line through the trees.  That’s a fire break.  We start with real small flames next to it.  Let it back off.  That’s the slow part.  Backing fire is always very slow.  It’s like swimming upstream.  It’s backing out here to where there’s a lot of native grass and once we get a 30, 40 yard or feet, depending on where we are and how steep it is, buffer of what we call “black line.”  Already burned, no fuel.  Nothing ignitable.  And then we’re gonna set a head fire, which means running with the wind.

WOODS: So, once we get a good “black line”, we’ll just light.  And so we’re gonna spend an hour or more, depending on the size of the fire, setting our black line for a big fire to be over in ten minutes with the head fire.  That’s the difference and head fires are dangerous, uh, but exciting.  And that’s what sets back the early succession.

Whoo, hoo, that flame’s getting hot.

WOODS: We’re in late March.  It’s too early to be planting food plots, so we’re actually, like preparing our garden or our food plot for wildlife.  One rain and this will be green as green could be and it’s a lush, perfect food plot until it’s time where we can have our cultivating crops in.  So, today, we are preparing better cover for wildlife, by allowing seeds to grow.  They're covered up by dead duff.  We’re turning new seeds or seeds into plants that wildlife can consume and we’re returning nutrients.  The nutrients in this old dead stem.  Deer are never going to consume this.  But, when it’s consumed by fire, those nutrients go back into the ground for other plants to uptake through the root system and turn into something deer can eat.

WOODS: I just want to conclude this episode by talking once again about our mission and why we come back to the fire the next day.  And we want to always come back and make sure there’s no hot spots.  No smoke, no flame that might get out.  You just don’t burn and leave.  That’s how big fires are started.  Especially on days like today.  The wind’s howling; the humidity is gonna drop.  I want to make sure everything’s cold.  The fire’s out; the fuel is consumed.  And I want to check the effectiveness of our burn.  Did we accomplish our mission?

So, yesterday, this was green and whippy and a tree you didn’t want to get a spanking with as a kid, because it would just whip, whip, whip and not break.  But since we girdled this tree and the sap is already gone, it’s just brittle.  It just breaks real easy.  Unlike, normally a green sapling you bend, bend, bend and it won’t break.  So, we have top killed this tree.  I’m sure it’s still root alive, but it’s top killed enough that it’s all starting at ground zero and it gives those native grasses and native forbs a chance go compete; where when this is tall and full of leaves and stealing all the sunshine, nothing can grow below it and compete.  So, it looks like we achieved our mission.  We were safe, but we just want to introduce this tool to you, so you can possibly use it at your property, where appropriate, to improve your wildlife habitat.