Prescribed burning is one of the most valuable and cost effective tools available to manage our rangelands. Fire was an integral part of the ecosystem in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas throughout history, and our plant communities are adapted to fire.
Fire historically helped limit brush encroachment and promoted the growth of grasses and forbs. As woody plants attempted to dominate the landscape, periodic fires would set natural succession back and prevent them from gaining a foothold. Native Americans noticed that bison and other wildlife congregated around burned areas, so they used burning to attract and hold them for hunting purposes. However, with the settlement of the region, fire was removed from the natural process. With fences came a change in fire frequency, timing and location.
Many people today want to use fire as a management tool to restore and sustain rangelands; however, it is not as easy as walking out and throwing a match into the grass and hoping for a productive burn. If done wrong, a fire can get out of hand and cause more harm than good.
There are parameters to follow when writing a prescription for fire and conducting a burn. Among other considerations, you need certain wind speeds, wind directions, humidity, temperatures and moistures to burn safely. Other things to consider when writing a burn plan include fireguard placement, equipment, labor and topography. You can use existing or natural fireguards such as lakes, creeks, rock outcroppings or roads, or you can create fireguards by disking or promote "green fireguards" by mowing. Consideration of vegetation type is important because certain types of plants burn or respond differently. The overall goal of the fire is a very important consideration and will determine the timing, intensity and size of the fire. Depending upon what you are trying to manage, such as bobwhite, deer or weeds, the timing, intensity and size of the fire might be different.
When it comes to planning a prescribed burn, there are many things to consider and monitor. On Jan. 27, 2009, the Noble Research Institute will be conducting a workshop on prescribed burning to help resource managers learn some of the basics in writing a burn plan and conducting a prescribed fire. Wildlife and fisheries consultants, and a pasture and range consultant from the Noble Research Institute will discuss topics such as legal and liability concerns, how to write a burn plan, techniques for managing fire, equipment used and environmental concerns for conducting a burn. Within these topics, we will discuss types of fireguards, types of fires, fuel loads, smoke management and more. If weather permits, we will conduct a prescribed burn. The best way to learn is by doing, so we look forward to seeing you at the workshop. To enroll, contact Tracy Cumbie at 580.224.6292, or register online at www.noble.org/agevents.