Prescribed Fire: A Management Tool
The Conservation Department fights wildfires and conducts prescribed fires. So do the Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Missouri State Parks. These agencies together might burn more than 100,000 acres each year using prescribed fire if the weather and conditions are suitable.
There is an important distinction between wildfire and prescribed fire: Prescribed fire is carefully planned and controlled. A “burn plan” is essential in using fire as a management tool.
A burn plan includes a statement of the burn’s objectives—what results are intended by burning. The plan also sets requirements for weather conditions before and during the burn, and includes considerations for smoke dispersal and contingency plans in case the fire escapes the designated area. Trained personnel and equipment must be available to conduct the burn safely and then evaluate the area to see that the fire met its objectives.
The intensity of prescribed burns is noticeably less than wildfires, but the response to prescribed fire by vegetation and animal life is often dramatic. Many plant and animal species that were long absent repopulate the area within and near the burn area.
For more than 30 years, the Conservation Department has used fire as a vegetation management tool. In the early years of prescribed fire, the areas burned were generally small, and there was no consensus among resource managers on the net benefit of managed fire. Indiscriminate burning on private land was more prevalent, and a concern, as it was being overused in many areas and often got out of control—leading to wildfires.
Through decades of fire prevention education by Smokey Bear and the Department, and the help of many citizen partners, we have been able to greatly diminish destruction due to wildfires. In the meantime, the value of planned, prescribed fires has been acknowledged by all resource managers. Also, an understanding of the role of naturally occurring fire in the environment and the important function it has in sustaining ecosystem health has grown. This has led, in some cases where the conditions are appropriate, to large landscape-sized prescribed fires.
Benefits of Landscape-Sized Burns
In 1994, Peck Ranch Conservation Area was one of the first sites for landscape-sized (approximately 1,000 acres or more) prescribed burns on the state’s diverse Ozark terrain of forest, hills, valleys and glades. A prescribed fire of this size mimics the area’s historic fire pattern and