Burning program offers big boost for wildlife

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The practice of regularly burning the underbrush found in forests and fields makes such a proven positive impact on wildlife, state and federal agencies are offering to share half the cost for the job in many area counties.
In its introductory effort last year, the “Fire on the Forty” program provided cost share funding for prescribed burning over a total of 10,000 acres in the state, and funding levels can serve as many or more acres this year, MDWFP officials say.
The program pays 50 percent of the cost from burning and fire lane construction, up to $12 per acre. Landowners who build their own fire lanes may count their labor as part of their costs.
Once approved, landowners will line up their own burn manager, either through the Mississippi Forestry Commission or through a private forestry consultant. They’ll then have up to 18 months in which to complete their burning project.
Locally, land in Prentiss, Monroe, Lowndes, Noxubee, Tippah, Union, Chickasaw, Clay, Oktibbeha and Winston Counties is eligible.
A natural process
To apply, land owners must submit an application by Oct. 31.
Applications are available at mdwfp.com or by contacting program coordinator John Gruchy. He can be reached via email at johng@mdwfp.state.ms.us or by calling 601-432-2199.
“When properly conducted, prescribed burning may eliminate undesirable woody plants such as sapling sweet gum, cedar, ash and elm, reducing the competition for light and nutrients and increasing quality browse and seed producing plants,” Gruchy said. “Burning in forests and fields removes dense thatch and litter that may make it difficult for small wildlife, such as quail and turkey chicks and young rabbits, to move around to forage and evade predators.
“Fire is a natural process in many upland habitats in Mississippi.
Over time, fire regimens have been altered because of urbanization, liability concerns and other issues that make burning difficult.
“Fire suppression, among other things, has been cited as a major factor in the decline of bobwhite quail populations.
“Ideal sites for burning are old fields or fallow areas that are often mowed instead of burned, and forests, such as pine plantations or mixed pine and hardwood stands that have recently been thinned.
“Habitats that are not eligible for funding include pastures that are being actively grazed, pine plantations that have never been thinned, and recent clear cuts that are in the process of being replanted.”