Why prescribed fires are important to Arnold Air Force Base
By Brandon Bailey, Arnold AFB Natural Resources Manager, AEDC/PA
/ Published March 04, 2019
ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Prescribed fire is the most efficient and economical tool when managing natural ecosystems.
It allows land managers to alter and improve the native ecosystems without utilizing more costly methods such as bush hogging, under brushing and herbicide applications.
All of Arnold Air Force Base’s ecosystems, from forests to grasslands, are perpetuated by disturbance regimes. Disturbances can be natural or manmade. Some examples of natural disturbances include: major storm events, fires, floods, insect infestations and natural mortality, while manmade disturbances include: timber harvesting, land clearing, mowing and herbicide applications.
Prescribed fire allows land managers the ability to mimic a natural disturbance which our native ecosystems have adapted to over time. Proper utilization of prescribed fire is both art and science, as it takes a combination of fuel conditions, weather conditions, smoke management, ignition techniques and timing to result in the appropriate fire intensity to accomplish site specific management goals.
Arnold AFB has three primary management goals for which prescribed fire is the best tool: manipulating structure type, competition control and fuels reduction. Prescribed fire is used to improve, maintain, or sometimes completely change the structure or composition of the landscape.
Prescribed fire at Arnold is used to maintain grassland habitat for grassland dependent wildlife, such as the Henslow’s Sparrow. The use of prescribed fire promotes new growth by removing dead vegetation and suppressing woody species that would eventually grow into a forest in the absence of fire. Prescribed fire is very useful for competition control on sites where the desired species is fire tolerant.
It is also used in Arnold AFB’s pine plantations to control the encroachment of hardwood and other undesirable species. Loblolly pines, for example, tolerate much higher fire intensity than other undesirable hardwood tree species.
Reducing the amount of fuels available to burn in the event of a wildfire is an important part of protecting natural resources. Fuels reduction is accomplished by periodically using a low intensity prescribed fire to consume dead fuels, such as leaves, broken branches, dead grasses, and other timber liter. Reducing fuels with prescribed fire does not kill the forest overstory, which is the highest layer of vegetation, and promotes new growth on the forest floor.
The majority of Arnold AFB’s prescribed fire operations occur from March to May. During this time frame both weather and fuel conditions are generally conducive to accomplishing Arnold’s prescribed fire management goals.
For more information, call (931) 454-3230.