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PRESCRIBED BURNS IN SPRING IMPROVE WILD TURKEY HABITAT

Selective burning during nesting season can be more effective than earlier burns

Wildlife managers know the use of prescribed fire as a land management tool is an excellent way to improve wildlife habitat. However, each spring wildlife biologists hear the fears of concerned hunters who don't understand that prescribed burns in March and April -- months generally known as wild turkey nesting months -- are far more beneficial than harmful to wild turkey populations.

“Prescribed burning can prevent small native grassland openings in and adjacent to woodlands from being invaded by undesirable trees such as eastern red cedar," says Brandon Houck, Kansas regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). "These grasslands are important nesting and brood habitat for wild turkeys but quickly fill in with trash trees if not burned periodically. Burning also favors fire-adapted tree species such as bur oak over less fire-tolerant types such as hackberries.

"As long as some unburned areas are accessible for nesting near recent burns, most Kansas wildlife species will show a positive response to spring fire," Houck adds. "Turkey hunters know they will find turkeys foraging in burns, and many gobblers have been harvested with soot on their feet.”

Prescribed fire is a tool that historically was used only in winter months. However, research has shown that growing-season burning during late March and April -- when shrubs and saplings start to bud -- can be much more effective where reducing brush and saplings is important, stimulating grass and forb growth more than winter burning.

Prescribed fire is a land management tool that mimics natural processes in the Great Plains that have been suppressed by man. Without prescribed fire, unwanted plants and trees shade out beneficial plants and hazardous fuels build up causing areas of standing timber to become susceptible to devastating wildfires.

"While some nests are lost in spring burns, evidence shows that most hens will re-nest if they lose their first nest," says Houck. "This is especially true if the nest loss occurs early in the incubation cycle. Although prescribed burns may destroy a few turkey nests, the lush new plant growth after the burn attracts a multitude of insects and provides food and shelter for growing turkey poults."

Biologists also note evidence that spring is the historical time for cleansing fires in nature. Before humans interfered, spring lightning storms ignited fires that eliminated brush and cleared tree invasion to new growth. Today's prescribed fire regimen simulates nature's original forest health plan.

For more information on prescribed fires, contact the nearest Natural Resource Conservation Service Office, the nearest office of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, or Brandon Houck, NE 3869 Rd E, Allen, KS 66833, 620-443-5906.

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