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Fire for birds, bees and other wildlife

What does the small, non-industrial, timberland owner do for timberland management? I addressed some of these issues in a previous article, but now we are going to get a little more specific.

Timberland or forestry management assesses the needs and goals of the landowner and works to implement the various aspects laid out in the timberland management plan. Timber management is much more than just looking after the trees. Good management considers the balance of the whole ecosystem — trees, plants and wildlife.

One of our best forest management tools is prescribed fire. I remember when I was at Louisiana Tech University in 1980 taking the “Fire” class with Dr. Jim Dyer. Someone in the class referred to a “control burn” and Dr. Dyer stopped and said, “There is nothing about a fire that we can control. We write a prescription for the fire to accomplish a desired goal. But we do not control anything about it.”

Prescribed fire is a great tool for forestry. Most burns are done in the spring or can also be done later in the year and referred to as a “warm season” burn. A prescribed burn will eliminate the fuel on the ground under desired conditions, as opposed to having a wildfire during the hot summertime which may damage many of the pine trees.

A prescribed burn accomplishes several objectives:

• It removes the fuel on ground.

• It puts the ash back into the soil immediately which fertilizes the trees.

• It greatly enhances the wildlife habitat of the area.

A burned area is tremendous brood habitat for turkeys. The young poults can run through the area with ease and feed on the insects.

The young tender browse produced following the burn is fantastic food source for deer and rabbits. The flowering plants which come in following a fire are outstanding habitat for pollinators and songbirds.

Pollinators have become a “big deal” over the past several years. A pollinator is an animal which moves pollen between flowers, which includes birds, bats, bees, butterflies, moths and beetles. We have lost many of our pollinators over the years due to reduced habitat.

Conducting timely prescribed burns will bring back many of the early succession plants that benefit our pollinators. Planting native grasses and wildflowers in conjunction with prescribed fire will help to regenerate the habitat for our pollinators. The NRCS has programs directed at assisting the small private landowner with some of the restoration work which can be done to enhance the forest setting for our pollinators.

Most landowners do not think about birds utilizing the forests, but birds come from all over the world to take up residence in our local forests for part of the year. Landowners can reap financial returns from birds by allowing “birders” to come out to their forests to bird watch. People will pay good money to come out to your property to sit with a pair of binoculars to record the birds they are able to spot.

These birds use a variety of forest types. Some of the birds prefer recent cutovers, some prefer older, mature stands, some prefer hardwood stands and some prefer pine stands. A good mix of hardwoods and pines could be an outstanding habitat for birds.

Just a few birds you can expect to attract to your forest by implementing a burn program would include barred owls, swallow-tailed kite, wild turkey, hooded warbler, indigo bunting, Bachman’s sparrow, great blue heron, eastern towhee, northern cardinal, white-eyed vireo, eastern wood pewee, pine warbler and Carolina wren.

Wildlife experts suggest conducting a prescribed burn every three to four years. You really don’t want to conduct a burn on all of your property in the same year, rather, divide your property into several blocks, if possible, so that you can conduct a burn each year on a different section of your property. This tactic would create maximum diversity across your property.

The Forest Productivity Program (FPP) with Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will now cost-share understory burns at a 75 percent rate. If possible, you can divide your property into three management blocks, Block A, Block B and Block C. You can burn Block A in year one; burn Block B in year two and burn Block C in year three. You will start over with Block A in year four and continue the rotation. Once you commit to a burn regimen, you will need to stick with it. Conducting a burn one time and walking away will create a monster, one situation you will regret forever, maybe not forever — but for an exceedingly long time.

Conducting a burn every year on different areas of your property will create various habitats on multiple sections of your property. You will have differing stages of understory development which will increase utilization from an array of animals and insects.

A thinned stand which is maintained with fire will be an overall healthier stand and will maintain a vigorous growth rate. A healthy forest is a happy forest.

(Tim Holland is a consulting forester for Mudd & Holland Consulting Foresters in Shreveport.)


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