Habitat & Conservation  |  04/07/2014

The Importance of Prescribed Fire in Habitat Management

This spring, Pheasants Forever and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources teamed up for a 150-acre prescribed burn on the Hull Wildlife Management Area in Mahaska County.

It’s taken a long time this year, but winter’s icy stranglehold across the upper Midwest has finally begun to relent . . . we hope!  Meteorologists are forecasting a balmy April weekend ahead which should liquefy the last remaining piles of snow throughout most of the pheasant range.  Finally, we’re at spring’s doorstep, which means it’s a perfect time to start thinking about habitat management.
One of the most important tools for improving habitat is prescribed fire.  Controlled burning in early spring accomplishes three main objectives in habitat management.  First, burning limits the growth of woody vegetation helping maintain the prairie as a distinct ecosystem.  Second, the fire burns off the duff layer of built up plant matter that hasn’t fully decayed over the last few years.  Third, prescribed burning releases the nutrients bound in the plant litter stimulating vigorous new growth, which is more attractive nesting covers for ground nesting birds.
Burns can be very dangerous if not done properly.  Grasses produce extremely hot fires and can spread rapidly.  Pheasants Forever’s habitat specialists and chapter volunteer burn crews are trained in completing safe and effective prescribed burns in many of the pheasant range states.
Prescribed fire can be an especially important tool in the mid-contract management of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, as well as on state and federally managed wildlife lands.
What’s the biggest limitation to utilizing prescribed fire as a habitat management tool?
The answer: the general public does not understand the value of prescribed fire to the prairie ecosystem.  Fire is widely viewed as bad.
Stop and think about it for a moment; what maintained prairies as unique ecosystems prior to urbanization?  The answer: Massive grass fires started by lightning.
A well-planned and safely executed prescribed burn is an incredibly successful way to manage habitat for pheasants and quail.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.