By Kevin Pugh, Wildlife Biologist
Throughout history, fire has played an important part in the environment of many wildlife species and forest communities. Fire provided disturbances in the natural succession of plant communities, and provided the mechanism for a diverse plant community. Because wildfires are controlled in today’s society, the use of fire for wildlife must be prescribed. Prescribed burning is an excellent tool for wildlife habitat management, and may also be the most effective method for many landowners to improve wildlife habitat.
Cool season prescribed burns, generally late winter to early spring, are the most common type used in wildlife habitat management. However, in some specific plant communities or management situations, growing season burning is the better choice, such as the pitcher plant bog. The hotter fire temperatures of the growing season burns help remove the invasive hardwood species that would soon replace the pitcher plant bogs. In return, the pitcher plant community provides critical habitat for many unique neo-tropical songbirds. The wet areas of the bog also attract many different species of reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Another community dependent on fire is the longleaf pine forests of the South. These forests support unique bird and reptile species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise. These species are totally dependent on the mature longleaf pine habitat that the hot fires of the growing season burns help maintain.
Control burns are also used extensively in quail management. These burns are conducted during late February and March. If the prescribed burning occurs any later in the season, the risk of destroying early quail nests greatly increases. Quail need a patchwork of bare ground. Early growing season burns help provide this critical habitat. A good burning plan will only burn about 25-30 percent of the habitat each year. Burning in small patches will leave some areas undisturbed for nesting, cover, and escape routes.
As with all prescribed burning, great care must be taken to reduce the risk of a fire burning out of control. Due to the warmer temperatures and usually drier weather, growing season burning should require extra precaution. Individuals with the proper training and experience should conduct all burns. A permit is also required to conduct all prescribed burning. Contact your local Alabama Forestry Commission office to obtain the proper permits.