Wildlife and the Outdoors


Management of Firebreaks as Wildlife Openings


Chris Jaworowski, Wildlife Biologist


            The construction of firebreaks by land managers in Alabama serves two primary purposes: to protect against wildfires and to provide fire barriers for prescribed burning activities. Firebreaks with small widths are classified as firelines and are generally constructed with a fireplow pulled by a dozer or tractor. Wider firebreaks are classified as firelanes and are constructed using dozer blades or tractors with disks. Though both methods are used frequently, firelanes provide the land manager with more options for future management practices. Firelanes allow easy access to timber stands for hunting and other recreational activities, provide access for timber harvest operations, as well as creating transition zones between habitat types. One advantage of firelanes often overlooked by land managers is the use of firebreaks as wildlife openings. Firelanes offer the land manager an easy way to increase wildlife food sources with minimal effort and low cost.

            Wildlife plantings should be evenly distributed across an entire tract of land to ensure access by wildlife. Land managers should strive to put five percent of total forestland into wildlife openings to increase the benefit to wildlife. Due to lease restrictions or landowner restrictions this percentage is not always possible. However, by utilizing firebreaks as wildlife openings, land managers can increase the percentage of wildlife openings on their land.

            Selection of optimum areas to plant is crucial to the success of the opening. Planting near boundary lines or exterior roads should be avoided to reduce the chance of illegal hunting activities. Areas that will provide sunlight to growing plants will offer your best chances for success. Wide lanes through

monocultures of timber stands provide excellent sites for openings adding needed diversity, sources of food, and increased hunting opportunities. Firelanes that separate two different habitat types are also prime areas for openings and create transition zones for wildlife. Planting near escape cover can be very beneficial to small game species like quail and rabbit. Aerial photographers are a great way to find and develop these key areas.

            Selection of what to plant is also crucial to the success of openings. Soil type, amount of sunlight, soil moisture, climate, and cost are all factors that must be considered. Conduct soil tests to determine needed amounts of lime and fertilizer to ensure optimum plant growth. Perennials or biennials will require less maintenance and reduce soil disturbance, however, do not plant improved pasture grasses. Light disking or mowing in this type of planting will provide several years of food sources for wildlife. Native grasses and forbs are also options that require less maintenance than annual plantings. To save time and money, consult wildlife biologists or other natural resource professionals who have experience and successes with wildlife plantings in your area. Planting guides are also available online or at your local Cooperative Extension office.

            Planting of firelanes can be completed without the use of heavy equipment due to their small size. Accessories for four-wheelers like seedspreaders, drags, cultipackers, and even harrows are available. Handheld or push-type spreaders are also ideal for firelane openings. Seed depth and preparation of the seed bed vary depending on the species or variety of seed. Be sure to check for complete planting directions to optimize plant growth.

            Management of firebreaks as wildlife openings allows land managers to increase supplemental food sources to wildlife while also increasing habitat diversity. Firebreaks provide protection from wildfires, fire barriers for prescribed burning activities, and are commonly used by landowners to protect financial investments in timber. By utilizing firebreaks as wildlife openings, land managers can benefit wildlife species while adding minimal cost to management plans.

For more information o management of firebreaks as wildlife openings contact Wildlife Biologist Chris Jaworowski at 227 Ridgeland Farm Road, Lowndesboro, AL 36752, or contact your local Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Office.