14 Mar 2009, 11:18pm
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Prescribed burns benefit forest

By Kelly Cales, Winston-Salem Journal, March 15, 2009 [here]

Marty Bentley has seen the benefits of prescribed fires firsthand.

“It does so much for the wildlife and the forest environment,” said Bentley, the assistant fire management officer for the Cherokee National Forest, where about 20,000 acres of forest land are scheduled for prescribed burns this spring.

Prescribed burns reduce the amount of woody debris – or wildfire fuel – on forest floors.

“The slow creeping fire will go through and kill some of that [old] brush, so that it gives some lush green vegetation for the wildlife to feed on and also opens up some areas so that oak seedlings can take root and perpetuate the next set of oak trees,” Bentley said.

The Cherokee covers 650,000 acres of forest land in East Tennessee, along the North Carolina border. A significant portion of the prescribed burn for the forest is planned for this month, although there is no exact schedule due to unpredictable weather.

As long as conditions are conducive, Bentley said, the forest’s prescribed burns will run into the end of April.

Terry McDonald, Cherokee National Forest public affairs officer, said many people have misconceptions about prescribed fires.

“There is an image that all fire is bad,” McDonald said. “Some don’t understand that unlike a wildfire, a prescribed fire is heavily controlled.”

Before national forest lands are burned on purpose, a documented prescription outline is written by Forest Service specialists. … [more]

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