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Controlled forest burning to prevent wildfires and properly manage a forest may sound counterintuitive—but it can be a great way to help native plants grow while hindering the development of invasive plants.

Several states organize controlled burns. Additionally, many landowners choose to burn some acres of their land to help develop a proper wildlife-friendly orchard.

Controlled burns require planning and professional knowledge of the way fires behave, depending on the vegetation, time of the year, and composition of the surrounding area. Care must also be taken regarding the ensuing smoke and how to protect people’s well-being.

When forests become denser with trees, the underbrush creates the perfect groundwork for wildfires. By organizing a controlled burn, proactive fire departments and landowners can help the forest regenerate itself, protect the natural environment from devastating wildfires, and give trees the space they need to grow.

Why Are Controlled Burns Helpful?

A controlled burn is a planned fire on forest grounds. There are many reasons why landowners may choose controlled burns for their land.

Get Rid of Dead Leaves and Forest Debris

The forest builds up leaves, branches, and debris fast. Within a few years, there will be piles of dried material that can easily catch fire.

The easiest way to get rid of organic material is to burn it in a controlled way. A controlled fire helps thin out the forest and lets new seedlings, that are choked by the organic matter, grow.

Thin out the Underbrush

When you thin out the underbrush, you create a prairie-like environment that wildlife likes. Within a few months, new seedlings, grasses, and short plants will grow—all of which white-tailed deer greatly appreciate.

By thinning the underbrush, you also give space to native species and native habitats to find their place. Very often, invasive plants crowd out native species. Once the invasive plants have burned, the native ones can regain their position in a more balanced and land-appropriate way.

Return Nutrients to the Soil

Trees and plants soak up nutrients from the soil. Conversely, burning leaves, debris, and other organic matter deliver nutrients to the soil. When it rains after the fire, these nutrients will seep into the soil and feed young roots, thus helping new trees grow.

Prepare the Ground for Your Wildlife-Preferred Trees

If you have a plot of land that you want cleared to plant your wildlife-preferred trees, perhaps a controlled burn is the easiest and most efficient way to achieve that.

By clearing the ground, you open up space for your oak trees, apple trees, pear trees, and persimmons. You are one step closer to maintaining wildlife on your land.

Prevent Wildfires

American forests are becoming denser, with more trees per acre of forest compared to a few years ago. Extreme heat temperatures and frequent droughts are encouraging wildfires. Additionally, there is little thinning of the underbrush.

All these factors together create the perfect conditions for devastating wildfires, which are becoming increasingly common and more destructive with each passing year.

By taking precautionary steps and helping the forest thin out, you are protecting it from more massive wildfires that could wipe out thousands of acres of pristine forest land. 

Help Oak Trees Regenerate

Oaks are slow-growing, particularly compared to aspens or maples. On the other hand, thanks to their dense wood, oak trees are also very fire resistant.

A controlled burn can help your domestic oak tree population grow stronger. By taking out maple or aspen seedlings and other competing plants, you are helping oak seedlings grow. And we all know how much white-tailed deer love acorns!

Increased Light Exposure

Through photosynthesis, sunlight helps trees and bushes grow. The more light there is, the stronger your trees will grow.

When you lower your plot’s vegetation and thin out competing trees, you are giving more sun exposure to the remaining vegetation, thus ensuring that you will have robust wildlife-preferred trees and shrubs.

When Are Controlled Burns Undertaken?

The best time for a controlled burn is in spring or fall. A controlled burn in spring gives plants the growing space they need to thrive in the summer.

A controlled burn in fall prepares the soil for winter dormancy and the ensuing spring growth.

You should avoid controlled burns in the summer when temperatures are very high and the organic matter particularly dry, especially on windy days: this is how fires can get out of hand, turning a controlled burn into a wildfire.

What Should I Keep in Mind for a Controlled Burn?

Hire a Professional

A controlled burn should only be done by professionals.
Nearly 85% of wildland fires are caused by humans [1] and controlled fires are risky even for the best of professionals. In April 2022, a fire started by the Forest Service in New Mexico turned into the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history, covering over 350,000 acres. The agency’s report emphasized that prescribed burns remain critical but also that climate change makes it more difficult to safely set intentional fires [2].

Make a Plan

Before the fire, establish both the dominant native plants and the invasive ones. Make a plan on how you will help the former and burn the latter.

Your aims are land management, improvement of your habitat opportunities, and increased forage choices for your wildlife.

You will also need to keep in mind how much organic matter has accumulated over the years. If the last fire was too far back, you will have a lot of thick and dead grasses, leaves, and branches to take care of.

You also want to evaluate the type of landscape you are working on. Is it a prairie or a mountain slope? This will determine how the fire spreads and how it can be controlled, monitored, and stopped. For instance, a rocky slope will decelerate the fire and make it go sideways. What are the contingency plans should the fire get out of hand?

Controlled Burns for Native Plants

Controlled burns can be an effective way for landowners to create the right environment for native species to grow and attract wildlife.

Once your land is ready for planting, contact us at 346-707-6023 to choose the right trees for your hardiness zone, soil type, and wildlife expectations. Alternatively, visit the Wildtree eshop or email us at [email protected]. Benefit from free shipping on all orders and a 10% discount on orders over $1,000 and get 40% off when you pick up your order!