The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation conducted prescribed burns Monday and Tuesday in Richmond County covering more than 600 acres.
Officials supervised a controlled burn on 222 acres near McKinney Lake on Monday and another 473 acres Tuesday in the Sandhills Gameland area. The burns aid in ecosystem restoration of the land, wildlife habitat improvement, and reduction of brush and debris that can cause dangerous wildfires.
“Prescribed fire is an essential tool in wildlife management, especially in fire-adapted and fire-dependent forest communities,” said Dean Simon, a wildlife biologist and forester with the Wildlife Commission. “Many of our wildlife species and habitats need it not only to survive, but thrive.”
People in the area likely will see smoke from the prescribed burn, but they should not be alarmed, Simon said.
“We want to make sure they know that this burning is a project designed to achieve wildlife habitat goals, forest restoration, and fuels reduction in the South Mountains landscape,” he said.
Most of the project area was burned previously in 2009 and 2010. A system of regular prescribed burns is advantageous to the habitat of early successional wildlife that live in the region, such as quail, rabbits and songbirds. Many other species also benefit, including turkey and deer. Controlled burns also help many plant species, including rare plants such as white irisette and bear oak.
Fire once occurred naturally across North Carolina. Low-intensity fires burned every few years, fueled by grass, leaves, pine straw and other forest debris. They kept the forest open, allowing sunlight to penetrate to its floor and reducing buildup of dangerous fuel loads. Fire suppression altered the landscape, allowing fuels to accumulate and putting people and communities in jeopardy.
Wildlife Commission and State Parks system staff prepare for each fire by creating a burn plan that includes smoke-management strategies, fire-control measures, acceptable weather parameters, and equipment and personnel needs. The plan also details how the ecosystem will benefit from fire. During and after the burn, staff and equipment, including emergency water tanks, will be on hand to monitor the landscape.
Wildlife and Park staff will be assisted by personnel from the N.C. Forest Service’s BRIDGE program. This program is a cooperative effort between the N.C. Forest Service and the N.C. Division of Prisons to increase the state’s firefighting capabilities, while providing youth offenders valuable job training and life skills resulting in productive, taxpaying citizens upon release and a significant recidivism rate reduction. The participants routinely assist with prescribed fire, in addition to firefighting duties.