(WHTM) — With very little snow this winter, the Midstate’s spring is off to a dry start.
We are currently at high risk for wildfires, but for some, it is peak burn season.
Typically before we see spring green up, the risk of wildfires increases. Especially if we have an extended stretch of dry weather.
This year is close to being one of the top ten driest on record to date, which is why the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) placed the Midstate at high risk for wildfire danger.
But don’t be surprised if you see smoke from fires over the coming weeks from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as they conduct what are known as prescribed burns, which are not the same as wildfires.
“A prescribed fire is what it says, it’s prescribed. We have to follow a pretty strict prescription of fuel and weather parameters. If conditions aren’t within that prescription, we can’t burn. The process of prescribing a wildfire plan takes months. To pull that all together to make sure we have adequate fire lines to be able to do everything safely and meet our objectives and to keep everybody safe on the fire,” said John Wakefield, fire program manager for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
On the day of a burn, highly trained crews are briefed on the burn plan and forecast weather conditions. A test fire is lit to see if conditions are appropriate and crew members walk through the area to ensure its clear of wildlife.
So what is the purpose of burning?
Primarily, to improve the health and resilience of fields and forests.
Fires burned properly improve wildlife habitat and increase available food for turkeys, grouse, deer, elk, and even bears. Now, these burns will make the landscape look scorched and empty for a brief time, but the increasing soft mass production encourages shrubs like blueberry, huckleberry, and blackberry in a few short weeks. Burns can even promote oak growth for future acorn production.
The more we observe the benefits of burning, the more we recognize its significance in past and future conservation.
“Fire was removed from the land for a long time. We’re learning more about how good fire is and how good it can be if used in the right manner. We’re trying to bring that back. So over the last ten years, with the help of legislation, we’re able to bring fire safely back here to the landscape in Pennsylvania. We’re learning about all the different ways we can use fire as sort of a natural means of land management and habitat management,” Wakefield said.
If you are interested in knowing if a burn is happening near you, the game commission maintains a public map that shows where prescribed burns are being conducted in your area.