The arrival of Kingbirds, Flycatchers, rising soil temperatures, changes in photoperiod, and the transition from frontal storms to convective storms, means the natural fire season has arrived. The Orianne Society’s land management team with the help of other agencies such as The Longleaf Alliance, Georgia DNR, and The Nature Conservancy are beginning to ramp up their ecological restoration efforts on The Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve (OISP). There is approximately 450 acres that is scheduled to burn this fire season on the preserve. Burn units range from xeric sandhills to mesic-wet flatwoods. When fire is applied during the months of April to June, fire effects can have a significant positive impact on degraded natural plant communities.
Fire applied during this time of year stimulates native warm season grasses such as wiregrass, dropseeds, and bluestems to produce viable seed. The increase in ambient air temperature also increases the percentage of encroaching hardwood kill and other unwanted woody species. Previous fire suppression has caused these natural plant communities to be invaded by undesirable hardwood and pine species. The natural plant communities restored by fire are critical for the threatened reptiles and amphibians that occur in southern Georgia.
For instance, the open understory provides space for Gopher Tortoises to burrow and the grasses and forbs provide them an abundant amount of low-lying forage. And the tortoise burrows provide shelter for many species, including Eastern Indigo Snakes and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. The open understory also helps to maintain temporary ponds needed for threatened amphibian species by not encroaching on wetlands that are associated with upland habitats such as depresional wetlands and seepage slopes along sandhill communities. The encroachment of woody species increases the amount and evapotranspiration, altering the natural hyrdrology associated with these special communities.
There is a lot of work that goes into the planning and preparation before a fire is conducted. Burning is essentially only a part of the entire process. Planning can begin months or sometimes a year, maybe even longer before the desired day when the weather conditions meet the unit’s prescription. Planning requires the desires and objectives for a unit to be written down into the form of a burn plan factoring in what resources are needed to burn a unit safely. Preparation is the next phase in prescribed fire. At the OISP we use an ASV skid steer with a mulcher head attachment to create firebreaks.
This could be on a property line, widening existing trails, or etc. Once we have mulched a path, we then follow up using a modified ag. hay rake to move mulched material off of the line. We have found that this is the most effective means of fireline construction due to the fact of mitigating mobility issues around the unit as well as minimizing erosion problems in the future. Once fire season has past, Orianne’s land management staff will continue restoration efforts by planting 250 acres of containerized longleaf.
It is definitely easy to say that the anticipation is high while waiting for the desired day. It is sometimes tough having the patience to wait for the right day that will meet all objectives. Personally, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing the hard work and time put in to planning and conducting fire is putting us one step closer in achieving our ecological objectives.