THE MANY BENEFITS OF PRESCRIBED FIRE (EPISODE 607 TRANSCRIPT)
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>> GRANT: We’ve been preparing some fire line here at The Proving Grounds and if you’re not familiar with the term fire line, that’s simply a break where all the fuel is removed so we can use prescribed fire safely.
>> GRANT: Every time we talk about prescribed fire, I get a lot of emails that kind of vary from the hate emails to sincere questions about, “Hey what do you do when using fire, man? You’re destroying the habitat or you’re killing critters.” Something like that.
>> GRANT: So, I want to take a moment today and talk about the huge benefits of prescribed fire.
>> GRANT: I’m standing in an area that was once covered with cedars. And many years ago, we felled all the cedars using a chainsaw. Now, a lot of people ask me how come I don’t use a skid steer and snip ‘em off or push ‘em over. But look around me. This soil is not disturbed at all.
>> GRANT: When you bring in a skid steer, which may or may not make it faster, it’s usually more expensive than having a chainsaw crew come in. But that skid steer is twisting, turning – either with tracks or wheels – and it’s scarifying the soil. It’s scarring the soil and that could allow invasive weed seeds to blow in and get a start or make a good seedbed for them.
>> GRANT: And all of a sudden – rather than having this great native vegetation, you’re out here with the backpack sprayer spraying a noxious weed.
>> GRANT: Anytime I’m doing habitat improvement work, I want to have the least amount of soil disturbance as possible.
>> GRANT: This is a six-acre bedding area and it’s been treated with prescribed fire several times – primarily during the dormant season. Now dormant season in fire terms is after Christmas or once the days start getting longer and that runs all the way until spring green-up.
>> GRANT: We start seeing tree buds popping, leaves coming out and lots of green growing in the area.
>> GRANT: There will always be some green and good quality native vegetation like this, and I see a lot now. And that’s primarily basal rosettes of bi-annuals or plants that take two years to mature.
>> GRANT: They had a root system formed from a seed and they put out a bunch of basal leaves to photosynthesize and get energy. And then this year, they’ll set up a big bolt and make flower and more seeds.
>> GRANT: Now some of the species that make a basal rosette are highly sought after by deer. And they’ll eat on those throughout the winter, getting high-quality nutrients. And even though they’re browsing, they’ll probably still bolt and produce flowers and seeds this year.
>> GRANT: The vast majority of species growing in this glade are annuals – a lot of native grasses and some forbs in here. And they grew as much as they could last year based on the conditions. And the weather – the winter conditions terminated them, so they’re still standing or falling over and they’re covering the soil with a great protective layer of mulch.
>> GRANT: That mulch has stopped any erosion during the winter and given a lot of small critters – insects and small rodents – a home throughout the winter. But that mulch is covering the ground and it could prevent the same species, or other species, from germinating. Most native plants have a very small seed and they may not have the energy to germinate and get up through all this mulch laying on the ground and grow.
>> GRANT: That’s one reason fire was always a critical part of such habitats. Fire will come through, remove this mulch, convert this into fertilizer. Now it would break down to fertilizer over time; fire does that really quickly.
>> GRANT: Some of the nitrogen will go up in the air. But the phosphorous and potassium and other traces of nutrients are just going right in the soil.
>> GRANT: And just as importantly, it removes that mulch. It makes a great seedbed for all those native plants that made seed last year. Those seeds are laying right here. And they’re going to germinate after a fire.
>> GRANT: Based on notes from the early explorers, I don’t believe these areas burned every year. Most experts all agree that fire occurred in these areas about every three years.
>> GRANT: That’s not the end of the story – just every three years. We know that you get a much greater diversity of plants if you burn during the dormant season – again from wintertime until about spring green-up – and a growing season burn, which is almost always a late summer burn.
>> GRANT: I want maximum diversity in these native vegetation areas. I want grasses and forbs. I want cover and food in here.
>> GRANT: And to achieve that, I need to burn during the dormant season and the growing season.
>> GRANT: Dormant season burns, if you think about it, are ideal to stimulate the growth of grass seed. Say, they grew the last year; the seeds have matured during the late summer/fall; fell down and then used fire to create a perfect seedbed. And the grasses are going to grow.
>> GRANT: Many of the legumes, or the native broadleaf plants, have a slightly different cycle. And those grasses are real competitive when they come up.
>> GRANT: But if you do a late summer burn – a late growing season burn – a lot of those legumes made seed early and so those seed are laying there, and you make a perfect seedbed for those to germinate and take off.
>> GRANT: Some of those are those bi-annuals we were talking about.
>> GRANT: So, what we like to do is burn when the conditions are right. Burn when God would burn, as we like to say.
>> GRANT: So, most of our burns are going to be that dormant season. You’ll have more days you can do prescribed fire safely at that time of year. But if we have a dry August/September, you can bet we’ll be out doing some prescribed fire to stimulate those broadleaves, including native legumes and other plants to make sure this doesn’t turn into a grass monoculture.
>> GRANT: Every spring when we’re showing a prescribed fire, we get a lot of questions about, “Hey, man. Aren’t you destroying the fawning habitat or the turkey nesting habitat?”
>> GRANT: And you know, right where we’re burning, we’re certainly removing cover, and then it’s going to rain. And as soon as it rains, it’s going to flush green and be wonderful food and cover for turkeys and fawns.
>> GRANT: But in that interim, yeah, it looks like a moonscape. It’s black and bare, primarily.
>> GRANT: But our property, and any well-managed property, will have almost a checkerboard pattern of, you know, maybe timber, something you burned last year, something you just burned. And that pattern replicates a natural habitat or what the early explorers found.
>> GRANT: You know, maybe that fire started by lightning or Native Americans swept through this area. But it didn’t cross the creek. And right across the creek is really good cover.
>> GRANT: When I look right over the hill, that’s a separate burn unit for us, and there’s another one over here, and we just cut the cedars on this south-facing slope over here. We’ll probably burn that for the first time this year. So.
>> GRANT: Ideally, on your property, your Proving Grounds, you’ve got a mosaic of habitat – cover, fresh forage growing, hardwoods, whatever you have. You’ve got this mosaic – a lot of edge, a lot of different components in there – and that’s where wildlife will be the most productive.
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>> GRANT: Another question we frequently get is, “Will fire remove all the ticks?” And it’s a yes and no response.
>> GRANT: Right when we burn this, we’re going to kill a lot of ticks and even more the next few days. Because ticks have to have moisture on their exoskeleton.
>> GRANT: We turn this black and it’s sunny for a day or two, it’s going to be really dry out here. And any tick that was under a log or a rock or whatever and gets out and crawls around, it’s probably going to be terminated within a few steps; it’s just so dry.
>> GRANT: But this is a six-acre unit and then we get a rain and boy, it flushes green; there’s all kinds of good groceries out here. And deer and rabbits and other critters are going to be feeding here and ticks will shed or drop off them and repopulate the area.
>> GRANT: Now we used to have really bad ticks here at The Proving Grounds and we’ve upped our fire campaign. We’re burning about a third of the property every year. And last year me, the staff, the interns, the pictures of deer we got all had less ticks on ‘em. And I believe it’s because we burned such a high percentage of The Proving Grounds and finally got that critical acreage where deer just weren’t feeding everywhere, and we were able to keep some areas tick free longer.
>> GRANT: A lot of folks out in the ag areas have CRP which is somewhat similar to this and they don’t have as many ticks. And they say, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
>> GRANT: But you think about it, all the land around that CRP field is probably cropland. And it’s being harvested or planted. It’s being disrupted a lot and the ticks can never really get a cycle in there; especially, heaven forbid, if they’re still plowing or disking that field, it’s totally breaking that tick cycle because they’re being desiccated. But in areas like we have where it’s areas like this and then standing timber, there’s always a reservoir of ticks in that leaf litter.
>> GRANT: Let’s walk on down the hill and talk about managing ticks and improving that habitat.
>> GRANT: We’ve moved down into a patch of timber, and I bet there’s a bunch of ticks spending their winter under this leaf litter.
>> GRANT: Ticks are a really interesting animal. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t like them. But they’re very interesting. They’ll get on a critter – a deer, rabbit, squirrel – get a blood meal, drop off, go through some changes and then get back on another critter for another blood meal. And they’ll do that a couple cycles, depending on the species of tick before they mature and the females make a bunch of babies and the males, well, they just die.
>> GRANT: If they’re not on a critter during a cold day, they need some protection. And ideal protection, well, it’s under deep, moist leaf litter, or even getting into the soil.
>> GRANT: I’m confident that right under this leaf litter is plenty moist and, of course, there’s rocks and stuff to get a little deeper if it gets really cold.
>> GRANT: If we didn’t burn this every couple of years or so, man, this would be a tick hotel in here. They’d be dancing and high-fiving – just waiting for that critter to come by, latch on and get a blood meal.
>> GRANT: But if you put a prescribed fire through here; maybe it’s just going slow – a little backing fire, you remove all that leaf litter – well, for some time, you’ve removed most of the tick habitat, making this for just a week or two, a biological desert and the ticks are going to die.
>> GRANT: If you look around at the bases of these trees, you don’t see any fire scars. But this area has been burned several times with a backing fire. We started at the top and let it just slowly back down the hill.
>> GRANT: And during the dormant season, like right now or up to March or so when there’s no leaves on the canopy, it’s really difficult to have a growing season fire in a forest with a full canopy about anywhere from Kansas, east. The humidity is just too high. And that thick, closed-canopy area – it’s like insulation, holding that humidity in.
>> GRANT: A dormant season burn is fine because we’re just removing the leaf litter. Because it’s a closed-canopy forest, we’re not getting enough sun through here during the growing season for there to be a flush of native grasses or forbs.
>> GRANT: We’re going to remove this leaf litter. Pretty soon, it’s going to be a full canopy, slowing those raindrops down and there’s almost never any water-caused erosion under a full-canopy forest.
>> GRANT: Disrupting that habitat cycle – well, that’s the best way I’ve found to control ticks in wildlife habitat.
>> GRANT: We’ve got a fire line around several units already and we’ll be building more. We’re just waiting for the day length to get a bit longer and for it to dry out before we can do some prescribed fire and make some major improvements to the habitat here at The Proving Grounds.
>> GRANT: If you’d like to stay up with our burning regime and actually see it live while we’re burning, stay tuned to our social media.
>> GRANT: You know, learning the life cycles of different critters and how they relate to the habitat is a great way to enjoy Creation.
>> GRANT: But what’s even more important is to learn about our Creator and His mission for our life. I hope you take time every day to be quiet and listen to what He is saying to you.
>> GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.