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Still "Tis The Season" for Prescribed Burning

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Winter and early spring are the most common times of the year for landowners to conduct prescribed (Rx) burns. Dormant warm-season grasses provide the fine fuel for most burns during these time periods. However, for burns conducted in timbered areas, leaf litter is the primary fuel.

Assuming weather parameters for prescribed fire are suitable, dormant warm-season grasses provide the largest window of opportunity for conducting an Rx burn during winter and early spring. The moisture content of these fine fuels responds quickly to changing weather conditions, drying out in an acceptable period of time after a wet weather event.

The timing of grassland burns, such as winter versus early spring, can influence plant composition after the burn, and landowners can use this to their advantage in trying to achieve their goals for burning. Burning during summer or fall will result in different plant communities as well, but these are not common times for most landowners to burn.

We often burn timbered areas as soon after leaf drop as possible. This is usually about two weeks after the first hard frost and can be as early as the first of December. In our experience, the later we burn timbered areas with leaf litter as the fuel source, the more difficult it is to achieve desired results. Winter rain, ice and/or snow tends to compact leaf litter, requiring a longer drying period, and the leaves usually become more mineralized, making them less volatile.

If you are a landowner who has plans to conduct a Rx burn this winter or early spring, hopefully you have already planned ahead and have a burn plan in hand, fireguards in place and have made other necessary changes or plans in management, such as grazing deferment for fine fuel accumulation and planning for adequate rest after the burn for recovery. Of course, there are many other factors that should be planned as well. For more detailed information on Rx burning (much more than I have space for in this newsletter), plan on attending the Prescribed Burning Seminar at the Noble Research Institute on Jan. 27, 2005. We will provide information about the history of fire, creating a burn plan, equipment, environmental considerations, techniques and laws and regulations.