Managing Whitetail Habitat: Prescribed Fire (Episode 89 Transcript)

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

GRANT: August 1st, Monday, here at The Proving Grounds, and it’s another scorcher, triple digit heat. But there’s always something positive going on and we want to share with you some of the great habitat work we were able to get accomplished under these harsh conditions last week.

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GRANT: We’re in the middle of the 4th worst drought of recorded history here at The Proving Grounds. It’s dry! That’s an ideal time to do some habitat work using fire as a tool. Prescribed fire, we don’t ever want to say controlled fire cause not all fires are controlled, we hope they are but something can happen. But, we prescribe a fire, and that’s exactly what we did on a 35 acre sanctuary or bedding area that these saplings had encroached and started growing, but a fire this time of year will allow great fall green up and set these saplings back for a long time.

GRANT: I like the term prescribe cause we literally write a prescription or plan a fire – when we’re gonna start it, where it’s gonna stop, what our breaks are versus a controlled burn. Controlled means everything’s under control and I’ve never been on a fire where everything went exactly as planned.

GRANT: This side doesn’t match. I know that’s the fun side, but this is where the work is.

GRANT: So our mission on this fire was literally to kill a bunch of shrubs, a bunch of small oaks and even hickories and sassafras. This has been burned twice in the spring. But in the spring, all the water and carbohydrates are down in that root system, so we just top kill ‘em. To kill ‘em kill ‘em, so they don’t keep doing this all the time, we’re gonna burn now when all the energy is up here and the photosynthesis is going on. We’re gonna rob it of food from now ‘til next spring cause it won’t re-green up and it will probably starve the tree to death. We wanted to convert this 35 acres from shrubby, woody plants, low quality cover and food, to native grass and forbs, high quality cover year-round, high quality food. That’s our mission for that prescribed fire.

GRANT: Now, this 35 acre area is above what we call 2nd House. It’s a south facing slope, very steep. Mature hardwoods on top, full canopy, a lot of shade. Inside that we literally blew a fire break. We used backpack blowers – go through and blew a break ten feet wide, give or take, with no fuel on the ground. The bottom is a creek that’s totally dry. So big ole gravel road bed, basically – no water, no brush, no leaves. And the other side is a road. So, great protection.

GRANT: We started in the morning, lighting fire on top, and we create what we call a black line, or let it burn slowly downhill in that real low leaf duff, or small fuel amounts, creating a black area so when the bigger fire hits it, there’s no fuel and it just starves to death.

GRANT: I want to take just a moment say something very serious. Fire is like a gun. If you don’t know how to use it – you haven’t been trained by experts – don’t touch it. Leave it alone cause you can die out here real easy. We hope we educate you today, but this is in no way a certification for you to do prescribed fire.

GRANT: And we literally spent about two hours working on this back fire. Lighting/burning, lighting/burning, trying to get the fire to burn the fuel out to the target area where the fire might be more volatile.

GRANT: Okay, we’re about two hours into this and it’s a boring, slow two hours and we’ve been burning this leaf litter under this canopy and shade really suppresses fire. We’re just getting a black area or consuming the fuel. We want to do the slow, hard work now of removing the fuel and making a big safety zone – or black area – fire break. It’s making a bigger black area so we can get to the bottom and set a more severe fire uphill, what’s called a head fire, wind pushing it, preheating the fuel going uphill, and do a really good job of killing some of these saplings.

GRANT: That’s what we talked about.

GRANT: This is why you have a very good fire break cause at this point, we can’t put it out. We’ve done that work already. At this point, it’s living on its own.

GRANT: You know, a really important thing about fire, of course, is safety. But from a habitat manager’s point of view, I want to walk back through it a few days later and see if I accomplished my mission. Cause we’re going to have notes of how hot it was, and wind direction, and humidity, and we can compare that to the future so we’ll know when to burn and accomplish our mission or when not to burn.

GRANT: This is like walking up on a big trophy buck. This is a sapling that’s many generations old. It’s been a stump that’s been cut off and re-sprouted, gosh, there’s too many to count. And a herbicide mighta killed it, but mighta killed other stuff that we didn’t want killed permanently. This fire come through low, not a very high flame height, took this baby out of existence and now all the nutrients and water this big, giant sapling cluster was removing from the ground can be put into low, herbaceous plants at the level where deer lives and do a lot better. And you multiply this times 35 acres – it’s a huge redistribution of resources towards plants that are beneficial versus plants that are not beneficial. And that was exactly the mission of our prescribed fire.

GRANT: I’m gonna say 80%+ of those hardwoods – young hardwoods, you know, my height or ten feet tall, all brown leaves – break ‘em, they’re snapping. But the big trees that you might want to save – you know, a big oak here or there – very few of those were damaged or killed. I got a mature tree behind us. Obviously, that bark was thick enough. That’s the design. It could handle the severity of this fire easily. So, we’re moving all this, leaving the occasional mature tree. Great place to put a tree stand or an observation post. I couldn’t be more happy with the results of this fire. No doubt about it, that glade will be an awesome place for deer to hide, eat, and me to hunt for years to come.

GRANT: If you’d like to personally see the results of that fire, or maybe another fire we get to do this coming week, or any of the habitat or hunting strategies we implement here at The Proving Grounds, come to our field event. You can see a link right below me and you can find out more information – August 19th through 21st – cause we’re gonna touch, see, and feel everything we do here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: You know, depending on the conditions where you like to play with habitat, there may be different projects that are appropriate this week for yours. At our area during this drought, we can really replicate prehistoric fires or pre-settlement fires and get the benefit of that great native vegetation.

GRANT: Whatever the conditions are appropriate for, I hope you get to get out and enjoy Creation this week, spend some time with family. Thank you so much for watching

GRANT: Y’all drink the cold water for us cause we’re gonna be burning one today.