Prescribed Fire: An Important Habitat Management Tool (Episode 274 Transcript)

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

ADAM: I think, Grant, you’re in that area, correct?

GRANT: Roger. I’m going down the line.

GRANT: Prescribed fire is a very important habitat management tool here at The Proving Grounds. Last week, the conditions were dry and favorable to use this valuable tool.

GRANT: As more and more people settled throughout the whitetails’ range, they feared wildfire, rightfully so, because it could easily destroy their homes and cropland.

ADAM: Oh my gosh.

GRANT: Later, the Smokey the Bear campaign put a huge fear of any type of forest fire throughout most American’s mind and we’ve been fighting uphill, ever since, to use prescribed fire as a good habitat management tool.

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GRANT: Last week, here at The Proving Grounds, the humidity level was lower than normal and the temperatures were adequately warm to allow us to do an effective prescribed fire.

GRANT: I typically use growing season fires. Growing season fires are great at reducing, or killing, hardwood saplings, which is often the goal in bedding areas, or areas where I want native forage to be the primary growth in the area. Saplings, obviously, grow up, become trees, and that canopy shades out the forest floor, reducing cover, and food plants. But by using growing season fires, we can girdle those young saplings and have a higher control rate than these dormant season fires.

GRANT: The area we burned last week was not a bedding area, or necessarily a strong feeding area. It’s a north facing slope with mature timber. And during the growing season, July through September, or so, that closed canopy on the north slope will typically hold so much moisture we can’t get a fire in there, unless it’s a catastrophic fire, which we may not be able to control. Given those circumstances – dormant season fires – when the canopy’s off the trees, the sun’s reaching the ground, and the humidity is really low, is about the only time you can have an effective fire on north facing slopes in timber country.

GRANT: This was a relatively small area we were preparing to burn and it was very easy to make the breaks. There was a gravel road on top – interior – so we didn’t have to worry about traffic on it, a creek along portions of the bottom, surrounded by food plots. The only area we needed to make a break was on the downhill slope. So I want to start off by just introducing some basic tools, and the most basic tool is a hand rake. And it’s invaluable for when you’re walking a line, and maybe something’s blowing over, you can just grab this really quickly, pull it back into the fire, or rake leaf litter away from a tree that you totally want to protect and make sure that tree doesn’t get scarred.

GRANT: You can use the backpack blower to make a fire break. And a fire break is simply where we’ve removed the fuel, so the fire can’t go to the area we want to protect, and keep the fire in the area we wish to burn. And you have to have a fire break, like the road in front of me, or this break, or the creek in the bottom, all the way around the fire. Cause remember, fire is never satisfied. It will burn, burn, burn, until it rains, the humidity gets too high, or it runs out of fuel. You must have a source of ignition to start the fire, and we’re obviously doing too many acres to walk around with matches throwing ‘em down all day. So we use the drip torch. It’s probably the most common tool wildlife biologists and foresters use to ignite a prescribed fire. We use a specific mixture of fuel in our drip torch: two-thirds diesel, one-third gas. Never more than one-third gas. It’s simply too volatile; it vaporizes; and there’s too much a chance for a catastrophic injury to occur, if there’s more gasoline in the mixture than one-third.

GRANT: Fire is inherently dangerous, so personal protection is something we need to consider. Leather gloves – not synthetic. A lot of synthetics, like nylon, are very flammable, and if that caught on fire, it would melt to your skin and be a very serious burn. You notice, we always have these funky colored clothes on? These are called Nomex. Nomex is a special blend of cotton that’s treated with a certain chemical and it’s not flammable. You might think of cotton as being flammable, but these clothes are made to be very fire retardant, or not flammable. The bright yellow is so people can see the firefighters, in case they’re lost, or they get knocked out. We can find them and rescue them in a bad situation.

GRANT: If things are going correctly, the closest part of your body to the flame is gonna be your feet. There again, you don’t want a nylon or synthetic fiber boot. You want an all leather boot. Leather is very flame resistant. You want a tough Vibram type sole. Leather boot is appropriate for doing prescribed fire.

GRANT: With these tools, we’re ready to burn. There’s one last step. We prepared this fire line a couple of days ago. We always want to walk the fire line right before the burn. Literally, minutes before and make sure the wind or a fallen tree hasn’t put fuel across our line, because that fire could bridge the gap and we’d be chasing a wildfire.

GRANT: So Daniel’s just checked it. He says we’re all clear. We’re good to light this fire up and see what happens. This break that’s six to eight feet wide is more than adequate to control a fire, if I light it right here. But if we had lit the fire downhill and a head fire, a fire that’s moving uphill and preheating the fuel, hit this all at once, the flame height would be so tall, and ambers blowing in front of it, that it would probably jump our break and light over here. So the break size is dependent on the wind conditions that day and the type of fire that’s gonna hit it. We’re backing off our break and it’ll be a very subdued fire.

GRANT: Once I light a fire and I kind of see where the smoke direction’s going, and how everything’s behaving, and I see this is very calm, I want to get as much lit under good conditions as I can. So I’m just gonna start working my way down the hill and watching this fire backing off the line.

GRANT: And we will notice this fire down here probably being a little bit more aggressive, ‘cause it’s going uphill a little bit. And when fire moves uphill, it preheats the fuel, and fire creates its own wind. Of course, hot air rises quicker. So you can tell this is even more aggressive than right here, ten feet away. Just that little bit of slope makes it different.

GRANT: 20 acres of leaf litter under hardwood. Very safe road on one…(Fades Out)

GRANT: Another step preceding a fire is to inform the local fire departments that you’re going to be burning. There’s no hiding a large prescribed fire. There’s gonna be a lot of smoke in the area and rather than make those fire departments spend resources coming out and checking on the fire, call them ahead of time, tell them when you’re gonna burn, and the approximate size, so they’ll know when neighbors call and report smoke in your area.

GRANT: Some states require a written fire plan to be submitted before they grant permission to burn, but in Missouri, we still have the right, as private landowners, to burn when we want to, and we accept that liability.

GRANT: Another smart move is to call your neighbors and tell them you’re gonna be using fire to improve the habitat. That way, they don’t panic when they see smoke and call you and the fire department.

GRANT: Hey, boys. I’m backing down the line, getting this a little bit bigger. Black line… (Fades Out)

ADAM: Headed towards the eastern end.

GRANT: You should never try any size prescribed fire by yourself, so that means you’re communicating with one, and often more people. You need good communication, and you can’t call everyone at once on a cell phone, or mess with dialing. You need two-way radios that are instant talk. “Hey, I need help. What are you seeing?” Two-way radios are a must to be safe on a prescribed fire.

GRANT: When burning in timbered habitat with the goal to protect most of the standing trees, you want to make sure and use a backing fire. A backing fire simply means the fire is lit at the top of the hill and it’s allowed to ease down, or on flat land, it’s going into the wind. If fire is allowed to rush uphill, or run with the wind, the flame height and intensity will be much greater.

ADAM: We’re gonna have Daniel go down the road lighting a backing fire, that way we can let it back down, while Grant’s fire is going to the east. We’re gonna burn as many acres as possible, while the conditions are right.

GRANT: As I’m cutting through, lighting fire, I see a nice, about eight inch white oak. Not a lot of white oaks on my property, so I want to favor it. A backing fire probably wouldn’t do this tree any damage, at this size. But just to be sure, I take a moment and remove the fuel around the base of it, all the way around. That way, there’s no intense heat right by the bottom level of this tree and it’ll grow up, be a great tree.

GRANT: In the unit we were burning, there were a few areas where there weren’t any big trees, and saplings had filled in the area that should be filled in by native grass or forbs. In those areas, we wanted a different fire plan.

GRANT: In those areas, I simply allowed the fire to back down the mountain to the edge of the saplings; then, drop below the saplings and set a head fire that created a more intense fire, and hopefully, a higher rate of kill on those saplings.

GRANT: The right conditions and a good plan allowed us to have a safe fire that met our habitat management objectives. And once all this snow melts and the conditions return to low humidity, and favorable winds, we’ll use fire on a different part of The Proving Grounds to make sure we maintain quality habitat.

GRANT: In addition to using prescribed fire this time of year, we tour a lot of different properties to assist other landowners with their habitat and hunting plans. Recently, Adam and Daniel headed up to Greene County, Missouri to help Mr. Quinn with his property.

STEVE: How many times during the year do you hit it with Roundup?

ADAM: Well typically, for us, we’re doing it two. You’re doing it before you plant, and then, you’re doing it a month after you plant, or so, depending on how much weed growth you have and how much rain you have. Obviously, the more rain you have…

STEVE: So, driving around in the tractor over these new plants doesn’t…

ADAM: You know…

STEVE:  …do a lot of damage, or…

ADAM: …not really, no. As long as you’re not cutting your wheels in ‘em of a whole bunch and ripping ‘em out, but if you’re just driving around the top of ‘em, they’ll, they’ll fill back in.

STEVE: So, you’re doing all no-till, right?

ADAM: All no-till. The problem with disking – not only are you losing a lot of your fine nutrients in wind, and rain, and runoff – you’re also, every time you turn it, you’re exposing new weed seeds. So then, you have more weeds come back up.

ADAM: There’s tracks everywhere.

STEVE: Yeah.

ADAM: Your deer are hungry.

STEVE: Yeah. For sure.

GRANT: This became very obvious, as they toured some food plots and noticed all the browse was removed to about lip high.

ADAM: We’ve been touring the property, now, for a couple hours, and we’ve looked at food plots, and we’ve noticed a lot of browse and a lot of, uh, natives have been browsed. And so, basically, our number one plan for you to start on right away is provide more food, and whether that be clover and soybeans, or. And we’re just gonna try and increase the amount of food for your deer, so they’re not trying to go on the neighbor’s property and get shot. They’re gonna be here. Hopefully, we can hold more deer, and ultimately, you have better success and see more deer and have a, a healthier herd.

GRANT: Mr. Quinn’s property has a lot of potential. We’re very confident if he implements the plan we devised, he’ll have really good quality deer and quality hunting for his family and friends.

GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy Creation this week. But more importantly, make sure you take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you. Thanks for watching

GRANT: (Inaudible)

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible)