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Fuel reduction is one of the most common reasons for wanting to conduct a prescribed
burn. This is no more than reduction of the amount of fuel on the ground that will
burn. This may include grass thatch, leaves, limbs, even logging debris and piles.
The primary reason to burn for hazard reduction is to reduce the chance of a destructive
wildfire. Often, this type of burn is the only objective when an area hasn't been
burned in decades. Once a hazard reduction burn has occurred, additional objectives
can be accomplished in subsequent burns.
Prescribed burning is often conducted to prepare the seedbed for mechanical, hand-planted,
or natural regeneration of seedlings. By piling and burning the previous forest remains,
the seedbed is open for easier access and more effective planting success. This is
a common and cost-effective technique used by industrial forest product industries
called "site prep burning."
Burning can remove excessive plant material, reduce competition and provide more opportunities
for seed to soil contact. In addition, the fire provides a healthy dose of potash
and creates a heat-absorbing black soil to further stimulate germination.
Not all plant species respond to a prescribed fire equally. Many of Arkansas' native
forest and grassland species respond positively to frequent, low to moderate-intensity
fires. However, due to the long-standing restraint on fire management, many native,
fire-intolerant species have accumulated outside their historic range. Prescribed
fire can be used over time to reduce or remove these species. In addition, many non-native
species that have become problematic by out-competing native plants for resources
can likewise be managed with fire over time, especially in combination with other
effective treatments like herbicide.
The direct impact of prescribed fire on many insect or disease infestations is not
completely understood. In many cases destructive outbreaks occur when forest or grassland
conditions have become unhealthy and succumb to normal fluctuations in insect and
The exception to this is when a non-native competitor such as the emerald ash borer
or chestnut blight is introduced. Prescribed fire can help maintain forest and grassland
vigor through reduction of dead leaf and grass layers, keeping forest density at lower
levels, and encouraging a healthy influx of new growth.
There is also some evidence that smoke may play a role in helping some plants defend
themselves from certain insect or disease infestations.
Roughly 84 percent of Arkansas' native wildlife is adapted to open or semi-open habitats
that were historically maintained by a regular fire. Without fire, many of these species have become less competitive or have been driven
out to find more suitable habitats. Research shows the absence of regular fire is
largely responsible for the decline in Arkansas' quail population. Frequent fire stimulates
those plants that provide the best food sources for Arkansas' native animals, including
the state's most popular game species. In addition to food sources, fire can create
a diverse habitat that provides nesting, hiding and mating opportunities.