Mike Norris would like to see growing season burns expanded in North Carolina.
The Conservancy’s controlled burning usually occurs in winter on TNC-owned property. That changed this year thanks to a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which paid for an additional fire crew to work throughout the spring and summer.
Sandhills Burn Boss Mike Norris says that’s important. “Research shows that a growing season burn has the best results,” he explains. “If we are going to make a difference with fire we can’t just do it on public property or TNC property. You have to tie everything together and that means burning on private property. We can help private owners who want to manage their property well stretch their dollars.”
One of those private landowners is The Walthour-Moss Foundation, a 4,000 plus acre preserve near Southern Pines. The property is an important longleaf pine habitat, home to rare plants and the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Norris and his crew burned a 304-acre unit on the preserve in May. Norris revisited the property in July accompanied by Landon Russell, Executive Director of the Foundation. The two met up on the aptly named Mile Away Road (the property is a mile away from the Southern Pines train station).
The Walthour-Moss Foundation is open to pedestrians, horses and riders, and carriages. “As open land around us is developed the Foundation land becomes more important, especially for those in search of a place to ride or drive a carriage. We have riders and carriage drivers coming here from Charlotte, Greensboro, Wilmington as well as South Carolina, because it is getting harder to find places like this,” Russell explains. “Just look at parts of Raleigh. For a period of time my mother lived there. Now, when she visits, she points to one development after another and says ‘I used to ride there.’ “
Great care is taken in managing the Foundation lands. In the fire-dependent longleaf pine ecosystem that means regular controlled burning. “A part of the Foundation’s mission is to preserve land and to protect and improve wildlife habitat,” she adds. “We know how important prescribed burning is for this habitat.”
Norris notes that quail, turkey and other game love an “open midstory,” thriving in an area where shrubs are limited and there is sunlight hitting the forest floor. Controlled burning removes those shrubs. A bachelor herd of five young male deer grazing in the distance drives home the point that fire is good for wildlife.
“An early growing season burn like the one we did here in May has the best results for grasses. They produce more seeds with that kind of burning. In the dormant season, you are just top killing the shrubs, but not knocking them back. We made real headway here. The shrubs took a hit, which is what we want,” Norris tells Russell.
Norris says in many ways this kind of burn is tougher. The fire-resistant clothing the crew wears is stifling in January. In May, it can become really hot. That means ensuring that people are hydrating so they don’t succumb to heat exhaustion. Burning on private lands requires dealing with property owners; a whole different situation than when TNC is the property owner. “It’s pretty easy to talk to yourself,” Norris says with a laugh.
But, it sure looks like it was worth it,” he says as he and Russell stroll through the forest.
Russell agrees, “It looks great.”
More information on the Walthour-Moss Foundation is available at http://www.walthour-moss.org/October 15, 2012
Debbie Crane is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.