Prescribed fires are used to reduce the threat of wildfire and to improve the health of native plants and wildlife habitat in Missouri. Deer, turkey, quail and other species benefit when plants they depend on for food and cover are rejuvenated by the use of prescribed fire.
Mark Twain National Forest employees plan to burn approximately 35,000 acres using prescribed fire in 2019. Prescribed fires are used to reduce the threat of wildfire and to improve the health of native plants and wildlife habitat in Missouri. Deer, turkey, quail and other species benefit when plants they depend on for food and cover are rejuvenated by the use of prescribed fire.
“We expect to continue to achieve excellent natural resource benefits from this year’s prescribed burn plans,” stated MTNF’s Fire Management Officer Jim Cornelius. “The moisture from this winter has taken a while to subside, so we are starting the season a little later than the last few years; but we were able to get a lot of preparation done over the past couple months.”
A prescribed fire is a fire ignited by highly-trained firefighting personnel under very specific fuel and weather conditions. Each prescribed burn will be conducted when favorable atmospheric conditions exist. These weather conditions disperse the smoke quickly and minimize smoke impacts to local communities. Although some smoke may be visible and affect nearby communities, agencies work closely with the National Weather Service and use smoke monitoring stations to predict potential smoke impacts. Monitoring and coordination enable prescribed burn planners to keep the smoke generated by the fire within federal and state air quality standards.
Neighboring landowners will be contacted prior to ignitions. Signs will be posted on roads and trails near prescribed fire operations when burning is in progress. If you encounter smoke on the highway, please: slow down; turn on your vehicle’s lights; and drive cautiously, watching out for firefighting equipment and other vehicles that may be stopped along the road.
MTNF develops burn plans for each prescribed fire. The plans include criteria used to make burn-day decisions. Criteria assessed include temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, plants’ moisture levels, and terrain. Burn plans also outline strategies to promote smoke dilution and dispersion, accomplished by controlling the rate of smoke emissions and minimizing smoke output by applying appropriate burning techniques.
Prescribed fires are usually conducted using hand crews, although some also utilize helicopters. The desired effects are reducing the fuel-loading in the hardwood ecosystems, stimulating the grass/forbs plant community, and maintaining open areas in glade and prairie ecosystems. The planned burns mimic the historic fire occurrence for the areas in which they are planned. In some places, the prescribed fire also allows for efficient clearing of vistas around popular recreation areas.
The Missouri Division of Fire Safety encourages anyone interested in firefighting to consider being part of the strong volunteer firefighting tradition in Missouri. Currently, a Veteran’s Initiative recruitment is underway across the state for Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs). They have a program which will identify interested and eligible veterans and provide them with the information and tools to pursue fulfilling career and volunteer opportunities in the fire service. Visit the website at https://dfs.dps.mo.gov/programs/other/mo-fire-fighter-veterans-initiative.php to learn more.
On private land, burning of brush piles and using prescribed fire for land restoration and maintaining healthy ecosystems is a valuable tool that requires education and practice to conduct safely. Landowners can learn more about how to properly conduct prescribed burns on their property by visiting Missouri Department of Conservation’s website at www.mdc.mo.gov/property/fire-management/prescribed-fire, and signing up for a prescribed burn class, that MDC provides for free to the public throughout the year. If you are a private landowner living adjacent to the MTNF, please contact your local Ranger District (contact information is online at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mtnf/about-forest/offices) to discuss the possibility of agreements with the Forest Service to assist in burning of your land as part of a Forest Service prescribed burn in the future.
MTNF coordinates with other federal and state land managers and some non-profit and private landowners as partners in the spring prescribed burn efforts. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is one example of these strong partnerships. TNC works closely with many partners and landowners to connect, protect, and restore areas suitable for maintaining strong, healthy natural communities in Missouri and uses fire as a tool to promote ecosystem restoration on its land.