The Conservancy’s prescribed fire team had another banner year in 2009, participating in more than 40 burns on a total of 18,151 acres around the state. According to Larry Belles, fire manager for The Nature Conservancy of Texas, the scope of the team’s work is indicative of the widespread acceptance of prescribed fire as an effective conservation tool.
“One of our primary goals is to increase awareness of the value of prescribed fire by doing burns across the state in a wide variety of habitats, from prairies to pinelands and from the West Texas mountains to the coastal plains,” Belles said.
The use of fire as a land-management tool dates back centuries—anthropologists believe Native American tribes regularly burned the Texas plains to foster the growth of new vegetation and to facilitate hunting.
Today, prescribed fire provides innumerable benefits to people and wildlife, from increasing water quality in our rivers and improving wildlife habitat to controlling the spread of invasive species and reducing the risks of dangerous wildfires.
With its dual emphasis on science and safety, the Texas prescribed fire team has become a model for other organizations interested in this effective tool. Last year, the team participated in three fire learning exchanges with partners from Mexico, and in the spring of 2009, the Conservancy hosted representatives from Mexico and China at a prescribed fire at Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve.
Although widely used throughout the United States as a conservation tool, controlled burning is not commonly used in many countries, including Mexico. Environmental officials in Tamaulipas are interested in learning more about the use of prescribed fire in their region, which closely mirrors the ecology and biological diversity of South Texas.
The visiting Chinese officials were studying how prescribed fires might benefit red-crowned cranes. This endangered species is found in Eastern China and is closely related to North America’s whooping crane, which winters along the Gulf Coast in just a few places.
In recognition of its record of success, the prescribed fire team recently received $133,000 in funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will be used to conduct additional burns on public and private lands throughout the state.March 03, 2011