Prescribed fire for wildlife management

If you want to improve habitat for wildlife on your land, consider setting it on fire. Prescribed burns indirectly impact wildlife by changing vegetation structure and composition. They impact how much food is available, and the amount and quality of cover for wildlife.

Jarred Brooke is an Extension wildlife specialist at Purdue University. He says knowing your management objectives, especially identifying which wildlife species you want to encourage, is a very important part of your burn plan.

"Not all wildlife species are going to have the same habitat, so a fire is going to influence the habitat for specific species differently," he says. "You want to make sure you understand how that fire’s going to influence the vegetation type in order to understand how it’s going to influence the wildlife, so it’s going to dictate how frequently you use fire, it’s also going to dictate in what season or what time of year you’re going to use fire."

The best objectives are no good if safety isn’t a part of the plan. Brooke says a common safety hazard during a prescribed fire is an inadequate fire break. The best breaks are bare soil, a gravel or paved road, or bordered by water such as a stream or pond.

"The general rule of thumb is that you want your fire breaks about 2-3 times the height of the vegetation that’s burning. So, if you’re thinking about burning in a native grass field, anywhere from about 20’-30’ is kind of the ideal width of a fire break," says Brooke.

Brooke also recommends letting your local authorities and nearby landowners know when you’re going to burn so the fire department doesn’t come out unnecessarily.