By Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist
The one dominant feature in many landscapes that is often overlooked or underutilized in managing wild turkeys is the woodland habitat. So much emphasis is placed on wildlife openings and supplemental plantings that people may be lulled into the perception that planting food plots is all you need to do to manage wildlife.
One of the most cost effective methods of improving woodlands for turkeys is controlled burning. When properly planned and executed, prescribed fire can promote more native forage plants and create more brood habitat for turkeys than other habitat enhancement techniques. Many native plant species important to turkeys, like grasses and legumes, have evolved with fire and respond well to it. Burning rotations vary depending on the site but average about three years for turkey management.
The most difficult part of burning is finding the optimum conditions including humidity, wind speed, wind direction and burn index. Some areas may not lend themselves to controlled burning. The purpose of a control burn determines when to burn. Winter burns are best for stimulating herbaceous growth, but growing season burns may be needed for dense brush control. Unless the land manager is certified in the use of prescribed fire, the expertise of the Alabama Forestry Commission or a private contractor is recommended.