Authored by Brannon Knight
A long, and somewhat frustrating, fire season has come to a close for the land management staff at the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve (OISP). Although the wet winter slowed us down a little, there was still a lot of good burning completed across the state.
Wet weather can make it challenging to accomplish our fire management goals, especially in mesic plant communities such as pine flatwoods and wet savannahs, but where it does make life easier is on first entry or re-entry burns. These sites have been fire excluded for many years, and a wet prescription is needed to burn these units to accomplish objectives such as minimizing tree mortality. Just the right amount of moisture is needed, accompanied by one to three days of drying to achieve the desired conditions for burning.
Another soil moisture reference to use is the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI). This is a soil/ duff moisture index that ranges from 0-800. A 0 index indicates “no drought” while an 800 index indicates “extreme drought.” A general rule of thumb is that an index below 100 is typically adequate for burning duff units, although this is not the only parameter that needs to be taken into consideration. A manager needs to refer to the amount of rain, days since rain, KBDI and his or her experience. This right amount of moisture and drying allows the duff layer (partial/well-decomposed plant material) to be saturated and the litter layer dry enough to burn. Pine mortality can occur by girdling the cambium layer or by consuming enough feeder roots that cause the tree to die directly or indirectly from other factors such as beetles or environmental factors.
Fire season 2015 did prove to be a wetter season, especially January through April, but once May arrived, the rains slowed down and it got dry fast! In April, the OISP received about 7.6 inches of rain but only about 0.84 inches in three rain events during May. It was a little frustrating to dodge, hunt and find places to burn that hadn’t received high amounts of rain. There were many days when we were essentially grounded from all the moisture. Things then started drying out, and we were right back wide open. Then we came to a screeching halt due to the lack of rain. We did still manage to get a lot of fire on the ground though.
The Orianne Society is part of the Interagency Burn Team which basically lets various nonprofit organizations (The Nature Conservancy and Longleaf Alliance) and governmental organizations (such as Georgia Department of Natural Resources) share resources and personnel to help accomplish fire management goals. The land management staff also works with private land owners who have a conservation interest by burning their lands to enhance Gopher Tortoise and Eastern Indigo Snake habitat. In summary, the teams burned 744 acres on the OISP and are planning to burn approximately 1,100 acres of the preserve in 2016. The team also either led or assisted with 41 different prescribed fire operations, burning a total of about 4,481 acres.
Looking ahead to fire season 2016, the land management program will hire two seasonal land management technicians starting January 1, and they will stay through July 29. We are planning to burn approximately 6,500 acres across the partnerships range with a total of about 65 days of burning. It is our plan to focus on private lands burning and to assist with other partnerships across our region as needed.