Winter perfect for prescribed burning

Prescribed burning is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve wildlife habitat, and winter is the prime time to set a controlled fire in the woods.
Prescribed burning is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve wildlife habitat, and winter is the prime time to set a controlled fire in the woods.

Managing wildlife and game species is a year-round endeavor. Although wildlife management has many facets, habitat management is among the most-important in developing thriving populations of wildlife.

February is a great month to prepare and “spruce up” available spring/summer habitat for wild turkeys, and one of the most-overlooked and cost-effective habitat modification techniques is prescribed burning. Turkeys prosper in lands with a mix of woods and agriculture with frequent fire. Readily available spring/summer habitat, consisting of low plant cover within woodlands and old fields, is especially important. Winter burning maximizes wild foods and cover for turkeys of all ages.

Burning encourages the maintenance and development of early successional vegetation, including native warm-season grasses and forbs, which serve as excellent nesting and brood rearing habitat for turkeys.

Burning and its products increase the chances for survival of young poults. It is an essential component to continuing a huntable population of wild turkey for the future.

Newly burned areas encourage growth of all sorts of plants; turkeys will feed on the tender shoots in winter and spring.
Newly burned areas encourage growth of all sorts of plants; turkeys will feed on the tender shoots in winter and spring.

Not only do burned areas provide brood-rearing and nesting habitat, but adult turkeys eat 90-percent plant matter and 10-percent insects. They will seek out these areas to feed. The newly-burned areas encourage growth of warm-season grasses, sedges, forbs, legumes, and they provide a home for protein-rich insects. They are prime feeding areas for adults in the spring and poults in the summer. More than 75 percent of a poult’s diet should include insects to make it through the early developmental stages of their lives.

Burning should be restricted to old field areas and fire-resistant pine forests. The majority of hardwood trees are not fire tolerant and are not recommended for prescribed burns. Pine stands eligible for burning should also be restricted to older stands that have been thinned at least once. Sunlight is a necessity and a requirement of early successional growth. Young pine plantations have a dense canopy cover, which doesn’t allow adequate sunlight to reach the forest floor.

Targets for winter prescribed burns should be areas where there is poor understory development caused by encroachment of undesirable vegetation — usually hardwood trees or woody shrubs — and/or accumulation of litter. The goal of a burn is to reduce litter and encourage growth of early successional species.

Each stand needs to be burned at least every three to five years. Rotate winter burns in various stands to have some newly burned area for each spring and summer period.

The burning season runs from January to March, prior to leaf-out, for low-intensity burns that benefit game birds.

*Check local regulations and contact local fire marshal/department prior to conducting a prescribed burn.