Improving Habitat with Prescribed Fire

Conservancy staff and partners set record year for prescribed fire in Arkansas.

Conservation Catching Fire

12,661 acres burned. That made 2013 the Conservancy’s most successful controlled fire season in Arkansas to date. It involved 10 men and women on the Conservancy’s staff working with 16 partners on 39 sites all across the state. It involved a fire brush truck, equipment trailer, and specially outfitted all-terrain vehicles. That’s a far cry from our fire program’s beginning 20 years ago with two guys plying the back roads of Arkansas in an ancient, wood-paneled station wagon!

“It was an incredible season and I thank our partners for helping get more beneficial fire on the ground than we ever could have done alone,” said fire manager Mike Melnechuk.

Why are we so fired up about controlled burning? There are many reasons, but the main one is it restores the landscape to its historic, open character. Prior to European settlement, low intensity ground fires burned every couple of years across millions of acres in Arkansas. Then people began to put out the fires, and over time the woods grew dense and prairies were taken over by shrubs and trees. With too little sunlight reaching the ground, many types of wildflowers, grasses and tree seedlings can’t grow. This is bad news for animals that depend on them for food and cover.

But the roots and seeds stay in the ground, waiting. When fire is reintroduced, native plants reemerge. In some places we’ve witnessed the variety of species increase tenfold or more after several burns. Regular burning also helps reduce dangerous wildfires by preventing the buildup of dead leaves and branches.

It’s a long term investment in our landscape that is yielding tremendous returns for nature and people.