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Fall fires enhance wildlife habitat

BY agfc

ON 09-18-2019


Sept. 18, 2019

LITTLE ROCK — Habitat work for wildlife occurs nearly year-around for biologists at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and fall is no exception. Hunting enthusiasts have their sights set on deer season and are already out scouting in hopes of harvesting this year’s big buck. While most stick close to food plots, there can be some additional places to focus on this fall. One of these ‘hotspots’ looks much different than a traditional hunting location.

Randy Brents, AGFC Prescribed Fire Manager, is working with staff across the state to provide valuable habitat for wildlife outside of food plots.

“Prescribed fire areas on wildlife management areas, no matter the season, attract wildlife almost instantly,” Brents said. “Habitat goals dictate where we apply prescribed fire to accomplish desirable conditions for the foreseeable future and the instant benefit we see is a bonus.’

Applying prescribed fire in the fall entices a response from the seed bank vastly different than spring. Spring burns promote grasses in the understory while fall burning tends to promote broad-leaved plants. The variety of responses by plants carries long-term benefits for all sorts of wildlife.

Traditionally, prescribed fire has been applied across public land from January through March. According to Brents, there is a much wider window.

“We have implemented just 10 percent of our agency prescribed burns from September through December across the state,” Brents said. “There are numerous considerations that have led to this typical rotation, but looking at historical fire patterns, we see that fire occurred often during the drier periods including late summer and early fall. These fires helped shape the natural communities that provide valuable resources that support a diversity of wildlife. Looking to the future, we see the opportunity to break loose from this traditional pattern and apply fire at times that will help to meet habitat management objectives within that historical timeframe. Accomplishing prescribed fire across the seasonal spectrum promotes diversity, and wildlife need diversity.”

With specific goals in mind, areas have been identified across the state that will be targeted with prescribed fire. These areas have been selected to combat or promote certain plant species that could either harm or help our wildlife from a habitat standpoint. With these areas identified, it is important to have a few additional considerations this fall.

“When placing deer stands, cameras or other hunting equipment please be aware that the area may be subject to a prescribed fire this fall,” Brents said. “While implementation will not occur during any permitted hunts, it is very likely these prescribed fires will be implemented immediately before, in between, or immediately after permit hunt dates. On areas without special permit hunts, prescribed fire could occur any time during the season.”

A hunter himself, Brents understands that many hunters on public land may see the timing of these burns as an inconvenience and may think deer and other wildlife have vacated the area, but the new growth that springs up almost immediately after a burn will actually attract many animals.

“I realize this may seem like an inconvenience to some of our sportsmen,” Brents said. “But I encourage you to follow these areas where prescribed fire has been implemented. Wildlife will most certainly do so.”

For more information about planned prescribed fires in a specific area, contact the local area manager or biologist at one of the AGFC’s regional offices, or Brents at 877-967-7577.

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