Prescribed burns can be one of the most enjoyable and beneficial management practices you can partake in. Implementing a strategic burn plan on your hunting property could be just what you need to take your property to the next level.
Removing dead vegetation, killing weeds or setting back weed growth, promoting regrowth of specific plants or native grasses, reducing wildfire fuel, increasing wildflowers, adding cover for wildlife, enhancing nesting or bedding habitat, the list goes on and on. While there are many potential upsides to prescribed burns they are just that; “prescribed”. They need to have an objective.
These objectives may be set based on how you use or intend to use the land, or in many instances set by state and federal programs which provide reimbursement for keeping land in native grasses.
Developing a Plan
The first step is identifying your specific property’s needs and your goals. What you have to work with as far as land is concerned and your experience level is going to dictate your ability to effectively do this.
Personally, our plan is largely dictated by the state of Iowa because we have roughly 100 acres of grass in the state’s CRP program. This was a decision made by my grandfather many years ago and that has continued because of our desire to keep ground in native grasses which preserves habitat for wildlife.
You may have hunting buddies or neighbors who burn and who may be helpful, but I highly suggest reaching out to your local conservation office as they would be the most knowledgeable resource for getting you going on the right path and may even be willing to help you start your plan.
Once you have established a plan that meets your goals and objectives, you will obviously need the tools to make it happen. The great news is that as far as dollars are concerned, burning is probably the most cost-effective way of enhancing and manipulating habitat.
Your equipment requirements throughout the entire burning process all revolve around 2 things: Starting the fire and containing it.
If burning is going to be a yearly practice for you, I highly recommend purchasing a drip torch. A drip torch is an incredibly safe and highly effective tool for starting fires and contains a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline. The gasoline helps carry the flame from the drip torch to the ground, while the diesel fuel provides a longer, residual burn to ensure the fire gets started.
As far as containment goes, we rely on 2 basic tools; a backpack sprayer and a leaf blower. Chances are good that you or someone you know may have both of these already. Both items can help control your burn by spraying and/or blowing out small tuffs of grass or leaves, but the blower can also be incredibly effective when it comes to clearing vegetation ahead of the burn so to prevent flames from jumping. This is especially effective in the woods when you can often blow leaves to expose bare dirt that will act as a fire barrier.
Safety and Considerations
Your mom always told you not to play with fire, and for good reason. Just because burning may be right for you, doesn’t mean it should be done by you.
Fire can be an incredibly effective tool, but can also be devastating if executed poorly.
In Iowa, we are allowed to burn without being certified. This may differ for you, so make sure you find out before you light a match. If you must be certified or if you don’t feel comfortable with doing it yourself, there are professionals who can help.
If you do decide to execute a prescribed burn on your own, you will need to decide when and how to do it. Most of our annual burning is done in the spring and revolves around weather conditions.
While there are many variables which impact a burn’s effectiveness, we typically focus on humidity, temperature, and wind speed/direction.
Ideally, we want relative humidity to be between 50% and 70%, If the relative humidity is too low, the conditions are too dry and your fire can burn too hot. When the humidity is too high, the conditions are too wet and you will have a hard time keeping the fire going.
Temperature also impacts the burn. “Cold is cold, hot is hot”. The colder the temps, the more difficulty you will have keeping the fire going. The higher the temp, the more you risk your fire getting out of control. 40-60 degrees fahrenheit is ideal.
Out of all the conditions, wind is arguably the most important. Wind Speed and direction are crucial to a successful burn. A slow steady burn is safer and more effective so we ideally want to burn when the wind is between three and seven MPH and coming from a consistent direction so we can establish how we burn the specific area.
Because of the importance of these conditions, we typically find ourselves burning in the evening between 7PM and 10PM when the temperature decreases, humidity is rising, and the wind speeds settle and become more consistent.
We have a pretty systematic approach when it comes to the actual day of the burn and it all starts with a call to our local sheriff’s office to make sure we’re clear to burn.
Our plan nearly always revolves around the wind direction. While there are several burn techniques, we typically do a perimeter burn which starts with a backfire (or burn towards a fire break), moves to lighting the flanks, and is finished by lighting the upwind side of the field.
Streams, bluffs, roads or disked ground may be used as fire breaks but in the event that you have to create one, back burning is one of the easiest techniques we use.
Back burning is done by starting on the downwind side of your burn and burning into the wind to create a barrier of bare ground. Burning into the wind will result in a slow manageable burn that will help you establish the fire’s stopping point.
Once we have that stopping point created on the downwind side of the burn, we light the flanks and then move to the upwind side of the location to start our main burn.
Once the main burn is started it’s all about monitoring and controlling. If the weather conditions are right, your burn should be smooth and effective.
I love the feeling I get as the sun goes down on burn day. Standing with my family and closest hunting buddies watching a well-planned strategy fade to smoke in the spring sunset. For me, it’s incredibly satisfying to know you have done your research and are doing something that is going to help maximize your property and your goals as a hunter for years to come.