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Wildfire Protection for Timber

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August 30, 2019

Announcer: Farm and family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about wildfire protection for your timber. Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry specialist. John, does Mississippi have a history of wildfire?

Dr. John Kushla: Yes, Amy. Upland southern forests dominated by pine evolved with climatic conditions favoring high frequency, but low intensity wildfires. Hot summers and thunderstorms with lightning served as ignition sources. Native Americans also burned extensively to improve hunting and agriculture. The logging boom at the turn of the last century left thousands of acres of cutover forest with tremendous amounts of slash and debris. This fuel load prompted wildfires to become commonplace on cutover areas.

Amy Myers: What was done to keep wildfires under control?

Dr. John Kushla: In 1926, the Mississippi legislature created and mandated the Mississippi Forestry Commission to fight wildfires. Last year alone, the MFC suppressed 2,318 wildfires. They had burned over 33,000 acres, averaging about 14 1/2 acres per fire.

Amy Myers: How can forest land owners reduce fire hazard?

Dr. John Kushla: Landowners must disrupt the fuel continuity in two directions, both horizontally, across the landscape and vertically, from the ground up known as ladder fuels. Putting in fire lanes or firebreaks around and across your property disrupts the continuity of fuel across the landscape.

These are bare strips of ground that will stop ground fires. They should be established around the property boundary, especially along highways and young stands. You could also use firebreaks to separate different stands of timber or provide access to your timber. The Mississippi Forestry Commission will install firebreaks for a fee of about $65 per tractor hour.

Amy Myers: What exactly are ladder fuels in forestry? We're not talking about gasoline are we?

Dr. John Kushla: No. No. Vegetation is so lush in our forests that fuel may rise continuously from the ground up into the tree crown, which we call ladder fuels. When these conditions exist, crown fires can be become particularly dangerous if there is a ground fire because it can travel upward into the canopy and these are extremely intense and move quickly with the wind.

Vegetation management to kill midstory shrubs and trees will disrupt these ladder fuels. In pine stands, selective herbicides can be used to control midstory competition. In hardwood stands, timber stand improvement with stem injection can be done to do this. Once the midstory vegetation is killed, periodic prescribed burning will help reduce the fuel load onsite and keep it low. Prescribed burning will also encourage sprouting of the native seedbed of forbs that provide a nutritious habitat for wildlife.

Amy Myers: When exactly is a good time to do prescribed burning?

Dr. John Kushla: Prescribed burning to reduce fuels is best done in the wintertime. In fact, the Mississippi Forestry Commission has posted no ban burns in many counties during the summer. Violating a ban burn is a misdemeanor with a $100 to $500 fine. You can check if your county is on the burn ban list by going to the NFC website,

Amy Myers: A burn ban means do not burn.

Dr. John Kushla: Do not burn, right.

Amy Myers: Give me a summary of what we've talked about today with protecting your timber from wildfire.

Dr. John Kushla: Our vegetation and climate historically experienced fire regularly. It's important to establish a fire lane or break around your timber. Control unwanted vegetation with herbicides and prescribed burning to remove ladder fuels. Contact the Mississippi Forestry Commission to have fire lanes plowed or prescribed burning done. To report a wild fire call 9-1-1. If you have any questions, contact your local extension office or call me at (662) 566-8013.

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Dr. John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Forestry

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