Only in the last century has fire in the forest been considered “bad.” Though fire is often destructive it is also a catalyst for welcomed and necessary change. Fire changes the composition and density of the forest creating openings for more fire resistant trees and stimulating regeneration. Fire also creates early plant successional stages that benefit many species of wildlife.
The powerful, beneficial role of fire has almost disappeared from the ecosystem it once helped create. The inevitable release of energy is postponed and the probability of a devastating wildfire is increased. When extraordinary amounts of fuel are present, a fire’s intensity may increase beyond the beneficial point. Soils can be overheated and root systems damaged. Living tree crowns may be completely destroyed.
Controlling fires by replicating the natural scheme is accomplished with fuel management. In areas where management objectives require reproducing natural communities, the use of prescribed fire is an effective fuel management tool.
The decision to use prescribed fire is one which should be taken with the advice of a qualified professional. In Oklahoma, fire is used for a number of natural resource management objectives including:
- Reduce fuel accumulations - Periodic burning reduces the annual fuel accumulation in forests and grasslands reducing fire intensity and creating an ecosystem less susceptible to catastrophic wildfire.
- Improve wildlife habitat - Periodic burning improves habitat for Oklahoma wildlife by modifying cover, and food quality and volume.
- Increase biodiversity - Periodic burning induces environmental changes that result in plant and animal communities that are adapted to fire.
- Control hardwood encroachment - Periodic burning also helps control hardwood encroachment onto old fields and into managed pine stands.
- Control eastern redcedar - Without maintenance, some Oklahoma landscapes begin to shift towards a juniper forest type. This forest type was historically restricted to north slopes, canyons and rock outcrops where fire didn’t burn regularly.