It's beginning to feel a lot like fire season, these days of low humidities and the crisp morning air. Springfield NOAA's graphics of sunny days, winds 5-10mph, humidities hovering around the upper 40s to mid 30s, plenty of sunlight to dry the fuels are enticing. News came through the post today that one of my friends will be burning his woods around the Niangua Basin country for the next two days. While many in the Ozarks take time off from work to kill deer (please, do more of that, too), others take good fire weather days to restore ecosystems.
March 23, 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the first institutionalized woodland fire in the Ozarks, a very easy fire that took place on a small 40 acre tract in the central Niangua Basin. That site has come a long way since 1983, considering that the fire regime has continued there on a 3 to 5 to 7 year rotation all these thirty years. But in fact, the regularly occurring fires never stopped following European settlement in this part of the Ozarks. Local landowners kept this country burned for the past 100 years or so, as the rich grass-forb mix (fire-dependent) provided "forage for livestock," the fires "kept the ticks down," and landowners here have known all these years that regularly occurring fire is good for wildlife populations. Burn a nice woodland tract and the deer and turkey will migrate there to take advantage of nature's food plot. Today, with increasing urbanization at wildland borders, the overabundant deer populations are penned into these nice woodland tracts, feasting on high quality native forbs and then hitting up surrounding suburban gardens planted in hostas.
Considering that the Ozarks landscape is fire-adapted and, in fact, fire-mediated, the rich, biodiverse flora that lies dormant in so many thousands of acres of woodlands will only appear again after a fire. To fully restore the heterogeneous matrix of woodland flora that thrives following regularly occurring fire events in high quality systems, one must apply fire. Mechanical treatment alone may offer the structural component of a woodland, the open canopy, for example, but without fire, one cannot restore an ecosystem and all the complex associations that derive from this ancient process.