Blaze helps restore Ozark landscapes

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Last Thursday, local residents might have noticed smoke rising from Roaring River State Park. Although smoke is often associated with destructive fire, the blaze that was started by park staff members last week will have productive affects on the park's woodland areas.

"Fire is a very crucial part of the Ozark landscape," said Tim Smith, park naturalist. "A lot of landscapes were established with fire. It helps restore the natural cycle of things."

On Jan. 22, park staff members burned a 600-acre portion of land that is located between Highway F and Fire Tower Trail. Although the burn was completed in five hours and all of the embers were extinguished within a couple of days, staff members spent several months preparing for the carefully orchestrated event.

"We have a prescription that we have to follow," said Smith. "We have to complete a prescribed fire burn plan that outlines our objectives. For this burn it was to reduce leaf litter and cedar and stimulate natural forest growth."

The burn plan, which was approved by the Missouri Department of Natural Resource's fire coordinator, also included information on the burn's perimeters, potential problems and preferred weather conditions.

After receiving approval for the burn plan, staff members began preparing the perimeter of the burn area by creating fire lines around it.

"Fire lines are lines that are bare down to the soil," said Smith. "We try to use the tread on the trail if we can. In grassy areas we weed-eat down as close to the soil as we can to establish a line."

When the burn area was prepared, Smith recruited 10 Roaring River State Park staff members, two Prairie State Park staff members and two Table Rock State Park staff members to help with the 600-acre burn, which required specific weather temperatures, humidity levels, wind speeds and sky conditions.

Last Thursday, Smith contacted the Springfield Fire Weather Forecast Center to determine that weather conditions were within the preferred range established in the approved burn plan. He also notified the Missouri Department of Conservation, the U.S. Forest Service and local fire departments about the burn.

The 600-acre burn that was conducted last week was located in what is known as the wild area of Roaring River State Park. In order to maintain the natural area, staff members were required to carry all equipment into the area on foot.

"This is the first time this 600 acres has been burnt," said Smith. "We removed a lot of leaf litter and fire hazards. In the spring, the area will start greening back up just like it normally would."

A schedule is established for each burn that is conducted in the park. Smith said that the 600-acre portion of land is scheduled to be burned once every two to five years.

"We try to burn different areas each year," said Smith. "We look for natural areas that are dependent on fire for survival and easy to put fire lines in.

"With this burn we are trying to restore the White River Hills Ozark landscape," said Smith. "We want to start to do more burns in the wild area. The glades have been overgrown with Eastern Red Cedar. This is a process to restore the glades."

Roaring River staff members plan to conduct three or four other big burns in the wild area over the next 10 years. Burns, which are used to remove fire hazards and exotic plants, have been conducted in the park for at least 20 years.

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