Wildlife Habitat to Be Bolstered by Fire

Experienced FWS and NPS firefighters conducting last year

NCTC will conduct a controlled burn between the end of February and mid-April, depending on suitable weather conditions. The goal is to burn away non-native plants and promote the growth of native warm-season prairie grasses that provide important wildlife habitat. A total area of approximately 22 acres will be burned by experienced firefighters from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

The operation will only take place under favorable weather conditions to keep the fire manageable and minimize smoke. Because such burning is weather-dependent, the exact date for this activity won’t be known until shortly before it is carried out.

Local residents and visitors may smell or see smoke in the area for a brief period of time, according to Phil Pannill, Land Manager for the National Training Conservation Center. “Grass fires such as this usually burn quickly and then go out,” Pannill said. “Fire breaks have been created to make sure the fire is contained and wildland firefighting equipment will be on hand. All necessary permits and approvals have been obtained.”

Prescribed fire has been found to be the most effective way to maintain and promote native prairie grasses, which include switchgrass, little bluestem, broomsedge, Indiangrass, and big bluestem. These grasses, which used to be common in the Eastern Panhandle, thrive on fire, according to Pannill. Tall-growing "bunch grasses" such as these provide ideal habitat for nesting birds and small mammals which can go under and between the clumps of grass to find food and protection from predators.

 -- published --  February 14, 2013
 -- photo credit --  Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

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