Several Prescribed Fires Have Been Scheduled In Bath County For The Spring
Warm Springs, VA – The prescribed fire lineup has been set for spring. Approximately 10,000 acres of prescribed fire is planned for the Warm Springs and James River Districts for the 2012 season which typically occurs in March and April. Seven prescribed burn areas ranging from 60 to 5,827 acres are planned for ignition by hand and helicopter.
So far, one prescribed burn has been completed and that’s located in Hidden Valley, 64 acres of grass fields. The remaining projects in Bath County include: Big Wilson at 5,827 acres, Neal Run at 2,500 acres, additional grass fields in Hidden Valley at 64 acres and the Gathright wildlife area at 60 acres.
The burn objectives vary but include creating golden wing warbler habitat, improving over winter habitat for small mammals, increasing forage and browse for large game, hazardous fuel reduction, and oak-hickory forest restoration.
The conditions for prescribed fire are complicated. Weather and fuels must all be within prescribed ranges in order to conduct the burn. At a minimum, parameters include wind speeds and direction, temperature, relative humidity, mixing heights, transport winds, dry fuel moisture, live fuel moisture, soil moisture, and days since wetting rain.
When everything is within limits, a “burn window” exists and the prescribed fire can be implemented. While there may be smoke, it will be likely it will be far less than produced by an unwanted wildfire in the area which as not been restored to the ecosystem conditions. Consideration for human safety is the highest priority for these burns.
The Appalachian ecosystem has evolved with and is dependent on fire to remain healthy and to provide optimal habitat for a diversity of plants and animals. The oak-hickory forest is by far the most prevalent forest type in our area of the Appalachians and beyond. Fire-adapted species include the oak and hickory forest, grasses and shrubs. Fire adapted means that we would not have these forests today without the occurrence of fire in the past.
And we will not have these forests in the future without the influence of fire today. Without natural under story fires, oak seedlings in the under story are out competed for available light and food by more shade-loving species, like red maple, gums and white pine. Without fire, over time, an oak-hickory forest will become a different forest, one dominated by these maples, pines and gums and other species that don’t provide wildlife habitat that many species depend on. Many common animal and plant species such as white-tailed deer, black bears, squirrels, and eastern cottontails benefit from this habitat as well as rarer species, including ruffed grouse, golden-wing warblers, grizzled skippers, and smooth coneflower.