Prescribed Fire Benefits
Prescribed fire provides many benefits to forest landscapes.
Hazardous Fuel Reduction
Prescribed fire is one of many fuel reduction treatments used to remove or reduce dense vegetation that is fuel for wildfires. Dense vegetation can create intense fires that burn quickly and endanger nearby communities.
By safely reducing excessive amounts of brush, shrubs, and trees, encouraging the new growth of native vegetation, and maintaining the many plant and animal species whose habitats depend on periodic fire, prescribed burning helps reduce the catastrophic damage of wildfire on our lands and surrounding communities. Wildfires that burn in areas where fuels have been reduced by prescribed fire cause less damage and are much easier to control.
There are many factors that determine whether fire will have beneficial or adverse effects on soil. Frequency, duration and intensity of the fire are just a few.
Fire is a natural disturbance, but it also rejuvenates the habitat. It returns the nutrients that are tied up in the vegetation, it returns that material to the soil, and you get new regrowth and lush vegetation that’s beneficial for wildlife and keeps the habitat healthy over the long term. The nutrients released in fires are almost all held and used at the site by plant roots, micro-organisms and the soil.
Too hot a fire can cause excessive nutrient loss when all fuels are consumed and when soil organisms and plant roots are killed.
Prescribed burning increases the quantity of water by removing thick shrubs and overgrown vegetation. With fewer plants absorbing water, the streams are fuller, benefiting other plants and animals.
Prescribed burning also helps maintain clean drinking water and reduces the amount of moisture that evaporates from plants into the air. This increases the quantity and improves the quality of water soaking into the ground replenishing aquifers.
Historically, even wetland areas burned in times of dry weather or when high winds carried flames over wet ground and the water surface. Today, prescribed fires in wetlands are an important tool for controlling weeds.
Prescribed burning increases vegetative diversity and attracts a wider variety of birds and animals. It also helps perpetuate many endangered plant species.
Competing Vegetation Management
Depending upon the desired composition and diversity of the forest or land, the judicious use of prescribed fire can manage the competition for water, nutrients and growing space.
Wildlife Habitat Improvement
Prescribed burning stimulates seed germination of many species and provides open conditions at ground level for travel, loafing and feeding by game bird broods, rabbits and ground-feeding songbirds. The responding ground cover provides forage, soft mast and seed eaten by many birds, mammals and reptiles. Prescribed burning also influences the composition and structure of cover available for wildlife.
Prescribed fire is highly recommended for wildlife habitat management where loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf, or slash pine is the primary overstory species. Periodic fire is beneficial for understory species that provide browse for wildlife.
Fire benefits numerous wildlife species. Whitetail deer are a good example of a species that thrives after fire. In habitats where fire has been suppressed over a long period of time, all the vegetation growth eventually gets out of reach for a deer. After a fire, a lot of the vegetation is brought back down to ground level within reach and it’s more nutritious and the deer are much more healthy. In our grassland habitats, prairieland chickens and quail thrive in post-fire environments. It provides a variety of food, attracting various insects that they require.
Insect and Disease Control
Prescribed fire helps reduce some fungal diseases such as root rot since it affects the makeup of the forest floor. It most likely does this by destroying some of the fruiting bodies and cauterizing tree stumps. But not all fungal disease is controlled by prescribed fire. Generally, these fires do not heat the soil enough to stop or destroy some soil-borne fungus and disease.
Prescribed fire is the most effective and practical means of controlling brown spot disease in longleaf pine seedlings and cone insects such as the white pine cone beetle.
Prescribed fire is useful when regenerating southern pines. On open sites, prescribed fire can expose mineral soil and control competing vegetation until seedlings become established.
Burning underbrush prior to the sale of forest products improves the efficiency of cruising, timber marking, and harvesting. Removing accumulated material before harvesting also provides greater safety for timber markers and loggers due to better visibility and less underbrush.
The reduced amount of fuel helps offset the greater risk of wildfire during harvesting. The improved visibility and accessibility often increase the stumpage value of the products.
Prescribed fire enhances aesthetic values by increasing occurrence and visibility of flowering annuals and biennials. In a forest, it also reduces understory buildup, making tree stands more transparent and enhances the scenic qualities of the forest. Prescribed fire also maintains open spaces for vistas.