To Burn or Not to Burn

Control (or prescribed) burning is a forestry tool that many landowners like to use to prepare tracts for planting. What does burning accomplish and should you spend the money on it?

The primary benefit of control burning is to improve planter access by reducing logging debris and vegetation. The clearing effect of a controlled burn allows hand planters or machines to cover the entire area, be more accurate with tree spacing and to make good contact between the seedling and the soil. Generally, any effects on vegetation are temporary. The brush can be top-killed by burning, but the root system remains unaffected and will generally sprout back vigorously. Occasionally, a fire will be hot enough to affect the root system. Really hot fires can have detrimental effects on the litter layer that helps prevent erosion and sheet washing on slopes and adds organic matter to the soil over time. Hot fires should be avoided for these reasons. Unless logging debris is very heavy, hand planters and machines are usually able to work around tops and brush piles and give a quality planting job with the adequate spacing of seedlings. The firelines that are typically necessary for control burning can improve access for walking and four-wheelers but must be carefully installed to prevent erosion. Seeding with grasses or wildlife beneficial plants should be considered.

The cost of control burning can range from around $10 per acre to $50 or more. Landowners should carefully consider whether this cost is necessary to get a quality planting job. Often, spending this money on weed control and improved genetics is a better choice, simply by investing a few more dollars per acre. Control burning can be a valuable tool but consider if it is essential and review all of your options that could be better investments in the long term.

Customer Success Story: John Reid

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