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Controlled burn helps create habitat

September 30, 2011

Earlier this month, you may have been concerned about the smoke slowly filling the sky east of Broken Bow. Grass fires are not uncommon this time of year and the weather has been a bit drier. However, you can rest at ease as what you were seeing was the result of a controlled burn just outside of Berwyn, a fire started on purpose by Robert Harrold and his crew at Prescription Pyro, a custom burning business in Broken Bow. Habitat management was the goal.
Fire is an intrinsic part of nature and can be either destructive or beneficial. Change by fire is biologically necessary to maintain many healthy ecosystems.
Wildlife managers have learned to use fire to cause changes in plant and animal communities to meet their objectives.
Native Americans used fire to clear undergrowth in pine forest to improve deer hunting. Early Colonial settlers learned from the Indians and used the practice for their own benefit. This tradition was continued for years until booming population growth created a danger from fires to homes and decorative trees.
Foresters called for a halt to burning, even natural ones typically started by lightning. This policy eventually had disastrous consequences, as without the natural cycle of fire, forests became choked with undergrowth and dead timber.
The most tragic example was the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988 that raged for several months affecting 800,000 acres (more than a third of the national park). Policies were soon changed to allow for a more natural cycle of fire under the watchful eye of the National Forestry Service.
The intention of the burn on Sunday was to purge the area of overgrowth and get rid of the cool season grasses.
One of the best ways to develop a property for wildlife is through habitat management. By definition, habitat management is manipulating the habitat as necessary to provide all the needed essentials wildlife requires on a year round basis. One of the most important tools for managing the habitat on a property is controlled burning (also called prescribed burning).
Besides eliminating evasive, non-native species, prescribed burning releases nutrients into the soil, which stimulates the growth of high quality native grasses, forbs and legumes.
Harrold and his team cleared approximately 40 acres owned by Nebraska One Box Habitat Chairman Bob Allen. With the land cleared and the soil nutrients enriched by the fire, volunteers of the Nebraska One Box will replant the area with native prairie seed (drilling with equipment from Arrow Seed). Enhancing the warm season grasses will hopefully create better winter habitat for wildlife.
Certain species such as pheasant and quail require specific cover types for nesting that can only be brought about through a fairly frequent prescribed burning program, while others such as deer and turkey can be maintained in areas receiving less frequent prescribed burning.
Nebraska One Box has spent a serious amount of time and resources in the area in an effort to improve wildlife habitat and increase pheasant populations.

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