Tom's Blog

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Protecting birch trees for prescribed burns

One can argue whether any tree species should be protected from fire during prescribed burns. If the point of burning is to restore the landscape to its original condition, then fire-sensitive trees should not be part of it. However, birches are handsome trees, and provide excellent nesting sites for red-headed woodpeckers, so perhaps saving at least a few is not such a bad idea.

We also clear around standing dead trees (snags), since these make excellent wildlife habitat. Dead snags are very fire-sensitive, and if not cleared around will generally catch on fire. A burning snag presents a potential mop-up problem, especially is it is tall and is close to the edge of the burn unit.

Our procedure for saving snags and birches is to use a powerful leaf blower to clear the leaves and other fuel away. It takes only a minute to clear a tree, so one can take care of a whole burn unit in an hour or so.

How effective is this?

I returned two days later to the Unit 19 savanna that we had burned to see how the trees survived. The photo here shows a typical result. The bark looks completely unscorched, which is gratifying. (Our work was not wasted.)

One downside of clearing around trees is that buckthorn or other undesirable woody plants can find a refuge and escape being top-killed. A special effort has to be made to find them and kill them with herbicide.


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