Did you know that East Texas is a fire-dependent ecosystem?

Especially with these recent burn bans in various ETX counties, It's human nature to be concerned when you see smoke rising from a wooded area in East Texas. We are hardwired to perceive fires burning in nature as dangerous and potentially deadly--to both wildlife and potentially humans.

While it's crucial to make sure we don't have a wildfire on our hands, or worse--START one--seeing that smoke isn't always a bad thing. It may be what is known as prescribed burning. What?

The Texas A&M Forest Service says "prescribed burning has become one of the most efficient and effective tools for land management in the state of Texas." And apparently, many experts both in the forest service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say the benefits of prescribed burning can't be overstated.

So what are a couple of these benefits?

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It creates environments that are attractive to our East Texas wildlife. Even though fire suppression is common now, in previous days, East Texas lands had more open meadows in the midst of the pines. And in these meadows, wildflowers would grow. Not only is that beautiful to us, but our creatures loved it, too. Those open spaces with fresh plant life--including fruits, seeds, grasses, and more--was very attractive to animals.

Scott Carroll, Unsplash
Scott Carroll, Unsplash

According to district forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service, Connor Murnane, prescribed burning reduces fuel loading. He says "we see fuel as a woody, shrubby, or herbaceous species that can easily burn."

So by reducing or getting rid of that "'fuel' reduces the risk and severity of potential wildfires. If there's not enough brush or grass on the ground for a fire to feed on, it won't get as hot or as big, and it's less likely for the flames to reach the canopy of more established trees."

It creates "balance." Many years ago, Native Americans had a respect for the role that fire played in nature. In fact, Murnane says "they would often intentionally light fires to create a better habitat for hunting or browsing of wildlife species."

Andre Hunter, Unsplash
Andre Hunter, Unsplash

On top of that, fire can act as a "mineralizing agent." Prescribed burning helps recycle nutrients back into the soil. Sure some are destroyed by the fire, but a study shows the majority of them become more usable to plants and organisms. This is a process that, without the fire, could take years and perhaps decades.

Pablo Martinez, Unsplash
Pablo Martinez, Unsplash

One thing I found particularly fascinating is the idea that, according to Murnane, East Texas is a "fire-dependent ecosystem." He says the "wall of understory brush--namely yaupon, sweetgum, Chinese tallow and other invasive species--is unnatural."

You can dig in deeper and even learn how to consider your own prescribed burns here.

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