Should You Add Fire to Your Land?Sep 30, 2023
When it comes to the two best management tools you can use on your land, it really boils down to logging and fire. I'm constantly talking about cutting your timber, how to cut your timber, when to consider cutting it, and things to know BEFORE cutting your timber. So today, to celebrate the start of October- the true "month of fall" in my mind - I'm going to talk about fire!
The question you may be asking yourself is "should I use fire on my land?"
And my knee jerk reaction is going to be "YES!"
But if I'm honest, as I always strive to be with you, the answer is more like "it depends."
It's going to depend on your timber type, your location, your objectives (of course!), and your comfortability with fire. So let's go through a basic and quick breakdown of each of these items...
Your timber type.
How old is the timber you're trying to burn? Is it a newly planted loblolly or slash stand that hasn't even been thinned yet... then your answer is "NO" at least a "not yet!" If you try to burn loblolly or slash pine BEFORE it's first thinning, I can guarantee you will kill 90% of your stand... okay maybe not 90%, but you won't have a viable stand at the end of it at the very least. Now, if you have longleaf pine that you've planted, then my answer is going to be a "YES", at least a "very likely you should". Longleaf, unlike it's counterpart pines, THRIVES in fire... and removing it from it's landscape is actually dampering it's potential. If you have a upland hardwood stand, my answer is going to be "probably, but you need to do so carefully" because hardwoods are naturally a little more susceptible to damage from fire, but I still believe it's a powerful tool in that environment when used well. If you have bottomland hardwoods, my answer will be "it's probably not worth the effort." Now, don't get me wrong.. bottomlands can definitely benefit from fire, but many times due to it's highly hydric nature it can be quite difficult to try to intentionally pass fire across the landscape and there can be an increased risk of smoldering in the peat on the ground depending on the thickness of that layer.
When I talk about location, I am focused on local location. What are your literal "neighbors" to the land you plan to burn? Is it surrounded by other forestlands or ag fields? Is it near a major highway or interstate? What is within a 2-5 mile radius of your stand: daycares, nursing homes, hospitals, airports, schools, etc... These things matter, not because of the fire itself but because of the potential smoke associated with your fire. The amount and intensity of smoke will be highly dependent on the stand that you're burning (what type of timber is it, what is the fuel litter load, how big of a stand are you trying to burn at once) AND the weather conditions on the day of the burn. Not all "sunny days" are ideal for burning, despite what we may think walking on the front porch. That all being said, if you have what's considered "sensitive" sites and attractions near your stand you want to burn, like what was listed previously, that doesn't mean you CAN'T burn, it just means you may have a much smaller day selection to pick from to be able to burn more safely to avoid smoke problems.
If you didn't know already, EVERYTHING what comes down to your goals and objectives for the land. Now I can almost always configure fire as a great tool for you to consider and utilize no matter what objectives you are working under... because fire is an amazing tool to enhance the quality of the overall forest, which all-in-all helps all different objectives. Timber income: healthier ecosystems grow healthier trees which typically yield higher products. Wildlife: fire greatly enhances the understory environment, improving now only shelter options but also forage and increases the diversity of understory herbaceous plants (typically.) Recreational and Aesthetic goals: fire promotes a healthier ecosystem, which is typically more aesthetically pleasing to the eye for most people since it reduces the thickets and shrubs from becoming impenetrable and improves the quality and diversity of wildlife, which again most people find aesthetically pleasing and increases their recreational enjoyment options.
Your Comfortability with Fire.
Now is when it comes down to you . If you are absolutely, never ever, not in a million years, going to be comfortable with intentionally putting fire on your land, then it doesn't matter what I or any other professional thinks! You've already made up your mind. But, if I may, I'd like to share another perspective to what fire is and can do which might change your mindset... at least open up your eyes to the positive impact fire can have. Because I get it, fire is intense, it's "uncontrollable", and it leaves a somewhat devastating immediate look. But what if I said fire is biblically good? Stay with me here now, because I recognize fire, like many other aspects, can be used for harm too. But let's look through a different lens. How often is fire used in the scripture, and to what degree is it used? Okay, I can't actually answer how often, but what I specifically have in mind are the renewing aspects fire is. Fire is used to refine something, or someone.. It's actually such an admirable element that God himself has chosen to use fire as a medium to "show" himself through and talk through (Exodus 3:2-6). And just as a personal self reflection and opinion, but if God recognizes the usefulness and brilliance of fire as an element to reflect him, then perhaps it's a tool I myself should take a lot of self reverence for myself to yield. IF fire is worthy enough of an element to represent God himself, and God's power... then it surely is more than worthy enough of a tool for my consideration as a part of my stewardship methods! **Now let me also preface this to say, I do NOT think you should go out there willy-nilly adding fire yourself if you have never explored prescribed fire methods before... PLEASE use your local wildland firefighting and forestry resources to assist you in the process!**
So back to our original question... should you add fire to your plans; should you add fire on your land?
Well... I think you need to answer the considerations I went over:
- Is your timber type suitable to hold fire, now or in the future?
- Do you have any restraints based on the location of your stand?
- Do your objectives support having fire as a part of your plan to help you reach those goals?
- Are you comfortable with using fire on the landscape?
If you answered yes and are ready to explore utilizing fire on your land, integrating it as a part of your management regimes, where can you start?
I highly recommend starting with your local county foresters and rangers (may be referred to as county wildland firefighters, or another title based on your state.) These resources can often not only provide you guidance on when and how to start adding fire to your land, can provide specific resources for you to explore to potentially become a certified prescribed burn manager (to give you hands on experience and knowledge), but also can usually provide the hands on assistance to getting fire on your land through firebreak establishment and hands on burning assistance and monitoring.
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