WV Wildlife: Prescribed burn can help our wildlife

Not all damage is created equal.

Truth is--our landscape, especially the woods, need natural disturbances to keep them more diverse.

Severe weather events, like the 2012 Derecho, is one way that this can occur, but the greatest tool--that mother nature has in its arsenal to refresh our woods—is fire.

Colin Carpenter, a wildlife biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and Black Bear Project Leader, says life can burst forth shortly after a fire.

"The first lifeforms we're going to see are grasses and forbs that spring up after the fire", said Carpenter.

Colin and other DNR biologists were on a fire recently at the Bluestone Wildlife Management Area in Summers County.

It wasn't a natural fire, either--they set it. There’s a reason for this prescribed burn, though—it was simply needed.

"The era of fire suppression that started back in the 1940's has lengthened the fire return interval for this area, so you don't see as much fire. We suppress fire because of human property issues and human life", said Carpenter.

That’s easy to understand--but our plants and even wildlife actually depend on fires occasionally.

As strange as it may sound, thinning a forest out has a lot to do with managing it--and fire is a great way to do that. More sunlight reaching the ground equals a new and vigorous growth of plants and trees--that's something that our wildlife will appreciate.

"Fire is one of the tools that we use, as land managers, to manage succession--so it's something that we use to set back plant communities. We get a lot of trees and shrubs over the first couple of years after the fire", said Carpenter.

That’s good news for our wildlife here in the Mountain State.

"It's going to benefit a lot of species of wildlife. You know--we're always focused on the game species, so turkey and bear and deer and things like that, but there's a lot of other neo-tropical songbirds that will benefit from them--as well as bats", said Carpenter.

These controlled, or prescribed, burns are called that for a reason, too—extra care is taken with them, and they’re usually produced far away from any residences. Carpenter explains.

“This is a very controlled burn. We have a large number of staff here to control it. You know, if the weather conditions get unfavorable, we stop. It's nothing like a wildfire”

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