Burning Hardwood Forests
Dwayne Elmore, PhD
Extension Wildlife Specialist
Bollenbach Chair in Wildlife Management
Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Oklahoma State University
While many landowners burn open grasslands during March-July, it can be difficult to carry a fire through forested areas during this period as the leaf litter is often moist, winds are light, and RH is high. In late summer/early fall, conditions for burning forests often improves and fires more readily can be conducted. Historically, fire was common during August-November in Oklahoma, yet few landowners currently use prescribed fire during this period. The lack of prescribed fire in late summer/early fall is unfortunate as this is an excellent time to burn hardwood forests/woodlands for multiple objectives
Landowners interested in reducing understory and mid-story woody plants may find that they are able to get better results by burning August-October as opposed to the dormant season (November-March). While results can be variable, some research suggests that early fall can be better for brush control as compared to dormant season and early growing season fire. Additionally, using late summer/early fall as an option greatly increases the window of burn opportunity for landowners and can help ensure that fire frequency is adequate to meet objectives. While season of burn does matter, frequency of fire is the most important aspect.
There are multiple wildlife benefits to burning during the late summer/early fall period as well. Removing the leaf litter during this period makes hard mast more accessible to wildlife. Also, burning in late summer can stimulate germination and accessibility of desirable forbs and cool season grasses, providing food for white-tailed deer and wild turkey throughout the fall and winter. Some hunters are reluctant to burn just prior to hunting season, yet these freshly burned areas make great places to hunt as game will often be concentrated there for food resources.
When using fire in forested areas, choose days with moderate winds to help carry the fire. Winds around 10-15mph are ideal. Low winds do not move the fire quickly and your fire crew will need to be on the fire for a much longer time. Also, be sure that the fuel is dry enough to burn. Leaf litter from trees often holds moisture as it lies close to the ground, so burning when the ground is moist can be difficult. OK-FIRE (www.mesonet.org/index.php/okfire/home) can be used to evaluate fuel moisture and predicted wind speed.