To many people’s surprise, fire played an integral role in the development of nearly every type of ecosystem historically found in Kentucky . Native Americans routinely introduced fire as the forests, barrens, and grasslands of Kentucky evolved. Even our wetlands had a significant fire history and are in need of reintroduced fire management. The Conservancy’s conservation planning process has identified an “altered fire regime” as one of the key ecological threats to many of our conservation targets in our active ecosystem project areas.
As the Conservancy works to restore these various ecosystems around the state, we find it necessary to reintroduce fire in ways to try to mimic the historical fire regimes that once occurred. This is a daunting task when you consider the number of acres needing to be put under ecological fire management across the state. However, the Conservancy is working hard, in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, US Army – Bluegrass Army Depot, US Forest Service, and the National Park Service, to build capacity for reintroducing fire where it is needed for ecological management across the state.
Of primary concern when re-introducing fire to our natural ecosystems is being able to do this work in a safe manner. For this to happen requires trained personnel, adequate equipment and a lot of planning and forethought. For the past several years, to help build Rx fire capacity in the state, the Conservancy has worked with our partners to offer basic fire training to staff and volunteers across the state. We have provided training to students at the University of Kentucky , Eastern Kentucky University , and Murray State University . We have assisted in putting on fire use training sessions at the Bluegrass Army Depot and Fort Knox . We have financially supported some of our partners’ key staff to attend out-of-state higher level prescribed fire courses.
Over the past several years members of our staff have been extensively trained in ecological fire management. We have put together a qualified crew of people who travel the state implementing Rx fires for ecosystem restoration purposes. However, we are not affecting nearly enough acreage and must find ways to increase the amount of burning accomplished each year.
The Conservancy is working to double our prescribed fire capacity within the next two years. We are working to have one prescribed fire crew on the ground in the western end of the state while another is working in the central and eastern portions of the state. Obviously, to do this will require retention of our highly trained fire staff, more of the necessary fire equipment, and the financial ability to hire seasonal prescribed burning personnel.