One of the best management practices that wildlife professionals have is prescribed burning. Prescribed fire mimics the natural role of fire, but in much more controlled environment. Fire is not bad. In fact, fire is good, very good, for maintaining healthy plant and animal communities. Many state and federal agencies promote controlled burning because of its many positives. Government Canyon State Natural Area Superintendent Chris Holm announced today that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) staff plans to conduct prescribed burns at Government Canyon State Natural Area starting in June and continuing through January.
The burns are expected to be conducted and completed in two to three days each. An open public meeting will be held at Government Canyon at 7 p.m. on June 19, 2012 to provide information about the prescribed burn program and to answer any questions about the burns. Prescribed burns are used as a management tool in natural areas and state parks to improve habitat for wildlife by restoring woodlands and savannahs in the Natural Area that were historically maintained by natural fires. They also are conducted to reduce the amount of available fuels, such as leaf litter, fallen branches, understory growth and dead trees that accumulate naturally and from storm events. By decreasing the amount of available fuels, prescribed burns reduce the chance for a potentially destructive wildfire to occur.
Natural Area staffers already have begun preparing for the upcoming burns by clearing vegetation and other fuels from the fire breaks established around the perimeter of each area that will be burned this year. Fuels and vegetation also are cleared away from utility poles, structures, signs and sensitive resources to protect them during the prescribed burns, which are focused on brush control and habitat improvement.
Prescribed burns in natural areas and state parks are conducted by TPWD personnel who have undergone training and met national wildland firefighting certification standards. The Natural Area’s prescribed burn plan defines the conditions under which a prescribed burn may be conducted, taking into account wind speeds and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, and fuel moisture levels. The plan also guides fire crew members in managing burns to prevent them from escaping into adjacent properties and to minimize the effect of smoke in nearby residential areas.
Because specific weather conditions are required to conduct an effective and safe prescribed burn, TPWD staff cannot provide a specific date for the burns at this time. However, local emergency management officials will be notified before a prescribed fire is implemented. Holm said that during the burn, the Natural Area would be closed to the public. During the burn there may be smoke that reduces visibility on neighboring roads and Holm cautions travelers to reduce their speed and use their headlights when smoke is present. Fire does temporarily knock back brushy growth, but it also returns nutrients to the soil. From a cost basis, prescribed burning is one of the most cost effective wildlife habitat management tools we can use.