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Using Fire to Clear Unwanted Understory Growth

by Billy J Best

posted in News and Society

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Fire is a major environmental factor in determining plant survival and adaptation. Fires that affect plant life have historically been natural; however, some are caused by humans. As a matter of fact, Native Americans for thousands of years, before Europeans arrived, used prescribed burning techniques to clear understory growth in forests all over the Southeast part of the United States. Native Americans burnt for many reasons. First of all, it was a way to divert game to areas that could be hunted. Burning fields was a way of keeping them clear and be taken over by unwanted plants and trees. Also, by keeping certain areas burned reduced the odds of having an out of control wildfire destroy the area later.
Surface fires, fires that burn only the surface litter and undergrowth, are the most common type of fire. For instance, many times property owner's burn unneeded understory within pine tree plantations. This is necessary because it helps to keep understory bushes and weeds from becoming a fire hazard at a later time. However, it must be noted that fires can cause abiotic effects like reducing the amounts of nitrogen to even decreasing the amount of moisture needed by plants life. From another ecological perspective, biotic factors produced by fires are reflected by the loss of a particular plant species that may not have time to recover before another more dominant species takes hold.
Therefore, be careful when burning any woodland understory because the affects can cause a loss of biodiversity by destroying organisms that just cannot survive or replenish themselves before another organism takes control. Over time, plants have adapted with fire resistant bark, and now many trees are dependent on fire to reproduce altogether. All in all, fires can be utilized for better production of agricultural systems like land clearing, weed and pest management, and adding nutrients like ash to the once burnt soil.
Over time, plants have adapted with fire resistant bark, and now many trees are dependent on fire to reproduce altogether. All in all, fires can be utilized for better production of agricultural systems like land clearing, creating more grazing land for cattle, weed and pest management, and adding nutrients like ash to the once burnt soil. From a safety viewpoint, burning understory growth keeps growth from becoming such a hazard that if a fire is started, ether from natural or man made reasons, that it does not become a major catastrophe.
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