Prescribed burning as a forest management and wildlife tool

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Rick Stutts

Area Forester
TN Division of Forestry

    Prescribed burning is a term used to describe the intentional burning of land to produce a desired result.  There are basically three reasons for burning: to improve wildlife habitat, to improve the timber or to reduce the chance of wildfires through fuel reduction.  Many prescribed fires address two or possibly all three of these. 

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If you have any questions, you can contact my office in Dresden at 364-3430 or your local TDF office (Monday through Friday 8:00 – 4:30). Carroll County – (731)412-4063 or Benton County – (731)441-8760.

   Let me explain the possible types of burns.

The first type of prescribed burning is in Pine stands.  As you know, pine drop their needles and create a mat in which little herbaceous vegetation (grasses, weeds, etc.) can grow.  A Pine stand like this is not good wildlife habitat, since there is very little food. The only benefit from a stand like this is possibly a bedding area.  The herbaceous vegetation is what deer and turkey want, what they eat. A prescribed burn will eliminate much of the needles and allow desirable vegetation to become established.  Another benefit to the timber side of this is that a prescribed burn will kill out many of the undesirable hardwood seedlings and saplings. Elimination of these unwanted trees will help the pine with less competition for sunlight, water and nutrients.  On top of all this, fuel is reduced, thus lowering the chance of a hazardous wildfire.

A second type of prescribed burning is in fields and open land.  There are numerous instances where this is desirable. Some examples are: areas where small trees are starting to take over, areas that haven’t been bush hogged in a few years, warm season grasses, etc.  When fields are left idle, much of the vegetation becomes old and less succulent. Warm season grasses are especially bad about this. Burning creates tinder, young vegetation that is much more desirable for wildlife.

A third type of prescribe burning is in hardwood.  This is tricky, as a hot fire will damage most hardwoods.  Trees with thin bark, like Beech, Yellow Poplar and Sycamore can be damaged by even mild fires.  The only practical use for prescribed burning in hardwood is when the timber is of poor quality and wildlife is the only consideration.  This type burning should be on a case by case basis and should be looked at by a forester, before anything is attempted. Once again, a prescribed fire will reduce the fuels.

The Tennessee Division of Forestry (TDF) does Prescribed Burning for $42.00/acre, although there are cost shares through the TDF and the NRCS that pay much, if not all, of the associated costs.

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