Annual prescribed burn season is approaching at Arnold AFB

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  • Arnold Air Force Base Natural Resources

This spring, the natural resources staff at Arnold Air Force Base will work with the Air Force Wildland Fire Branch to conduct prescribed burns across Arnold.

Most prescribed fire operations at Arnold occur during March and April when both weather and fuel conditions are generally conducive to accomplishing management goals.

“Prescribed fire is an efficient, economical and ecologically-important tool when managing natural landscapes,” said Brandon Bailey, Arnold AFB natural resources manager. “Safe application of fire by trained land managers results in tangible improvements to native ecosystems and commercial timber tracts while helping to avoid the need to employ more expensive management tools, such as a mowing, mulching and herbicide applications.”

Ecosystems across Arnold are perpetuated by disturbance regimes, either natural or manmade. Natural disturbances like grazing, floods, wildfires and major storm events were historically responsible for managing native habitats. Now, manmade disturbances are tailored for specific goals, often as a surrogate to mimic the unpredictable, natural processes.

“Prescribed fire is a great example of that, where highly-trained wildland fire crews can apply fire to the landscape, mimicking a natural process, but do so in a way that maximizes public safety while still meeting resource management goals,” Bailey said. “Prescribed burning is both an art and a science, and the staff that conduct these burns have countless hours of training and years of experience to make sure that fuel and weather conditions are appropriate, smoke management concerns are addressed, and proper safety measures have been implemented to allow crews to conduct burns of an appropriate intensity to meet management goals but still ensure that fire crews and the public are safe.”

Fire is utilized to meet several management goals at Arnold AFB: manipulation of structure type, resetting of natural succession and reduction of fuel loads. Long-term exclusion of fire leads to habitat conversion and can have long-term negative effects on biodiversity.

“Prescribed fire improves, maintains or sometimes completely changes the structure or composition of the landscape,” Bailey said. “In many cases, plant diversity drastically increases after a prescribed burn and flush of fresh vegetation provides browse, cover, nesting areas and other benefits for turkey, deer and other wildlife. The use of prescribed fire removes dead vegetation and suppresses undesirable species.”

Bailey added prescribed fire also aids in propagation of desired fire-tolerant, -adapted or -dependent species.

“Many of our native plant species, especially in more open habitats, benefit from burning,” he said. “Fire also helps improve the quality of commercial pine plantations by controlling the encroachment of hardwoods and other undesirable species. Removal of competing vegetation improves stand vigor and can improve profitability of the stand.

“Above all, understand that prescribed fire is an important part of our landscape and that the firefighters and natural resources staff conducting these burns are conducting them to protect the unique landscapes that occur on Arnold Air Force Base while placing the highest priority possible on public safety.”

Bailey said that while prescribed fire is ecologically paramount, its application is also important for public safety.

“One thing about fire-adapted landscapes is they will invariably burn, with or without our help,” he said. “By treating the area with prescribed fire, we can better mitigate many of the variables that make wildfires dangerous. Reducing the fuel loads in burned areas decreases the likelihood of a wildfire starting and has the potential to reduce the intensity and rate of spread if one does start, making containment safer and easier.”

While the smoke columns from these burns may pique the interest of passersby, the Arnold natural resources personnel ask that members of the public avoid impact areas during and immediately after burning operations.

“Safety of fire personnel and the public is our principal concern,” Bailey said. “Given the number of staff and equipment needed to safely conduct a prescribed burn, coupled with limited visibility for smoke and dust, it’s vital that no unnecessary traffic be in the area during prescribed burning operations. Anyone parked or traveling near a prescribed burn area creates a potential safety hazard to both them and fire crews. Additionally, burned areas can have pockets of smoldering material and other potential hazards well after the burn is complete. Entering these areas exposes the public to unnecessary risk.”

For more information, call 931-454-3230.