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Why the Forest, Deer and Wildlife Need Fire (Episode 326 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: Between now and spring green up can be a great time of year to use prescribed fire to improve wildlife habitat.

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ADAM: Okay. So we are at, we’re burning unit 10 today. We’re gonna probably start lighting. We’re gonna split up two groups. Nate, you’re with me. Matt and Daniel are together. We’re gonna light around the western rim…

UNKNOWN: Yep

ADAM: …up top. And then once we get that backed off 30, 40, 50 yards, then we’ll start working our way stripping it out.

GRANT: In today’s burn plan, we first prepared by creating fire breaks using food plots, roads, and areas where we’d removed all the leaf litter using back pack blowers. This burn unit, unit 10, is about 50 acres. And once our pre-organized plan is in place, our radios are checked, it’s time to start the fire on the ridgetop.

ADAM: It’s a great day here at The Proving Grounds because we finally have the right conditions for a prescribed fire. The portion we’re burning is all woods, so our main objective is to burn off all the leaf litter – so when spring green up occurs, there’s going to be all kinds of native species growing. It’ll be young, tender growth. Turkeys are going to love it, so it’ll be a great spot to hunt in April.

GRANT: Every time I talk about using fire to improve wildlife habitat I get nasty emails asking why I want to kill all the trees or cause erosion. I think part of these emails stem from the ancient Smokey the Bear campaign. Smokey the Bear was really necessary during that period of our history when there were massive wildfires and no government support to control fire on forested land.

GRANT: Unfortunately, the people that started the Smokey the Bear campaign didn’t tell the whole story. Fire under the right conditions can be very beneficial and it’s certainly natural. Every summer it seems there is catastrophic fires somewhere in the continental United States – where homes and even lives are lost due to fire. If prescribed fire had been used appropriately in the years preceding the catastrophic fire, there would not have been near as much fuel. The chances of the catastrophic fire ever occurring would be greatly reduced and probably there would not have been loss of property or lives.

GRANT: The footage may be deceptive. Here the fire takes off like a head fire with the wind. It’s hot and moving pretty fast. But once it hits the slope, the flame height decreases and the speed the fire is moving slows drastically.

GRANT: Next we used a technique called stripping. Once the fire is slowed down and is backing down the slope – it would take hours and hours for the fire to reach the fire break or the end of the unit. So, we simply drop below the fire, light another fire which serves as a small head fire. The distance of this head fire depends on the steepness of the slope and how much fuel is in the area.

ADAM: So I’m gonna run it all the way up. Whew!

GRANT: We will continue stripping throughout the fire until the complete unit is safely burned and all the fuel is removed. Rather than just drop a match and let fire go through the whole unit, we use a stripping technique. So we basically have a series of small fires that are very controlled.

GRANT: It’s important to know that we go into every burn with a plan and have good communication. If the conditions change, we’ll alter the plan to match those conditions.

GRANT: Using prescribed fire successfully requires a true team effort, usually with one leader. On this fire, Adam was the fire boss and through good communication he was able to execute a successful and safe burn.

ADAM: Okay. You guys are going to have to be careful on that slope. Try not to set any head fires.

UNKNOWN: Copy that.

UNKNOWN: 10-4.

GRANT: This morning, Daniel and I went out to check the results of those prescribed fires. We had a prescribed fire in this area a couple days ago and I always like to come back and check out the result. We use a backing fire and you can tell there is very few scars on the living residual trees in this area. It didn’t even get hot enough to burn up the dead trees laying on the ground. In addition, it’s important to remember that heat rises. Very little heat is going down in the surface. It’s not sterilizing the soil or harming that native seed base. In fact, many seeds need fire to germinate.

GRANT: Only in extreme conditions, of which we would never burn, would the fire be hot enough to kill the root system or penetrate down in the soil. There is a root mat in the soil that is holding it in place and that’s what prevents erosion. It’s rarely what you see on top of the ground. But, that organic matter, that fibrous root base in the soil that holds soil particles in place when it rains after prescribed fire.

GRANT: I receive questions about the likelihood of erosion after fire is burned through a forested area. That root mat will decompose after the plants are killed by fire. But by the time it decomposes, new plants have germinated as a result of the fire and those new roots are doing a great job of holding soil in place.

GRANT: We achieved our objective here of removing most leaf litter and killing any small saplings in the area. So we should get a little flourish of green growth and hopefully a lot fewer ticks in this area.

GRANT: This is an area we showed you recently where we had a lot of sassafras saplings come up in the understory. Some of them were getting to the size of an inch or more at ground level. And if we didn’t use fire this year, they’d be so large, I doubt we could have a fire that would control their growth without damaging the larger oaks we want to protect.

GRANT: Ours certainly did a number on the smaller saplings. You can tell they’re dry and brittle. They were springy just a week ago before the fire. So, we certainly top killed these saplings. Now, what do I mean by top killing? We ignite the leaf litter in a backing fire so it’s backing slowly downhill but that generates enough heat to girdle these small saplings. To keep the roots from sending any nutrients they have stored all winter, up into the stem to generate new leaves come this spring. By cutting that circulatory system off, there is no doubt that the saplings have a root system that will send up energy and there’ll be smaller saplings come out at ground level. But I think we’ve pretty much top killed 90% or more of the saplings in here. And that allows us to keep it in check and under control where future prescribed fires will limit the spread or growth of these sassafras saplings.

GRANT: I always stress that it’s necessary to have the proper training and tools before you implement a prescribed fire. But there is one thing that is necessary before you implement a fire that I almost never talk about. Anyone that uses prescribed fire as a tool – be it land owner and/or contractor – should have an insurance policy that covers the potential damages of fire.

GRANT: As a wildlife biologist, I don’t claim to understand all the “ins and outs” of the insurance policies. I’ve been taught over the years that a good prescribed fire policy not only covers the damage in case the fire does escape and do damage to your neighboring property, but also the damage if the smoke rises from your fire and settles somewhere else – potentially causing an incident miles away from your property.

GRANT: This is not a policy that is typically offered by the standard homeowner or even property owner liability policies. For years, I have used Outdoor Underwriters. They have taught me a lot about insurance. Fortunately, I’ve never had a claim but I feel very secure with them taking time to explain to me the exact policy I need.

GRANT: Unless you own thousands and thousands of acres of land, one of the most important deer management tools you can use is a neighborhood deer management cooperative. Some of my neighbors and I started such a cooperative last year and we just had our second post season meeting.

FRED: But the biggest, single reason controlling how many big, mature bucks you have running around is the age of the bucks. And the single biggest determining factor of how many big bucks you have running around – older bucks you have running around – is one thing. It’s trigger control.

FRED: And the other thing, of course, is avoid shooting button bucks. Easier said than done. We’ve all done it – unintentionally. A couple, couple of things that, uh, that, uh, I got out of Grant’s book and I think it’s, it’s worth sharing and I think everybody that hunts my place could probably tell you the mantra. Number one, you don’t shoot a solo doe. Solo does usually aren’t. They're usually not does; they are usually button bucks. So, if you see a single antlerless deer, you just let it go. And then if you try to stay with, uh, not shooting a button buck, you make sure there is at least two deer out in the field – one’s a lot bigger and they neither one has antlers. You shoot the bigger one. So, because, other, other than that, you’re, you’re setting yourself up for shooting button bucks.

GRANT: I always enjoy seeing the antlers and jaw bones of bucks harvested throughout the neighborhood. I enjoy just as much talking to my neighbors, learning what works on their property as far as food plots or herbicide and other techniques they might be using that could benefit me and my management program.

GRANT: Cooperation between neighbors with similar objectives is one of the foundations that helped build our colonies and in fact our great nation. The same is true now with deer hunters. Deer hunting and deer management has never been more political than it is today. There are a lot of challenges facing deer hunters. And when neighbors join together to help neighbors and take on battles that are important in their neighborhood, that’s clearly a win-win situation.

BRIAN: Uh, but the big one probably that most of you have probably heard, or may, may not have. But is the reduction of antlered deer harvest, you know, for next year. It went from three, which is that two with a bow and then one with a firearm. It’s gonna be two total, uh, starting next year.

GRANT: Our cooperative members are talking about getting together and helping each other with prescribed fire or sending feeder techniques but it goes further than that. As an example, currently, a representative here in Missouri has proposed legislation to significantly increase the level of penalties associated with poaching deer, elk, and turkey.

GRANT: …dollars and to be really candid, I’m not spending half my kids college education every year – planting food plots and doing all the stuff I do. My neighbor can go buy 20 bags of corn for the whole season and whip me cause when corn is on the ground, deer are going to it. Just period. Just like cocaine. They're going to it. So, uh, I’m really in the, in the favor of us getting some stiffer penalties in Missouri.

GRANT: Currently, those fines are merely a slap on the wrist and not much of a deterrent to poachers. Imagine if several cooperatives throughout the state got behind that legislator, helped refined the wording so it was truly meaningful and beneficial. What we could accomplish as a group of hunters, that were slightly organized and working for stuff that benefited our home turf.

GRANT: Our group is a true co-op. There is no membership fees exchanging hands and you don’t have to play by any certain deer management rules to be part of the co-op. It’s simply neighbors exchanging information with neighbors and working together for better wildlife and wildlife habitat.

GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy Creation this week. But most importantly, I hope you take time each day to slow down and listen to what the Creator is saying to you. Thanks for watching Growing Deer.