Fire is often thought of as a destructive and threatening force, but fire can also provide numerous ecological benefits when applied safely and responsibly. Land managers and government agencies have learned that fire can be a useful management tool. Scientists of various disciplines have come to recognize the importance of fire and the role it plays in keeping our ecosystems healthy. The use of prescribed fire has become more widespread and can help reintroduce many of the ecological benefits associated with natural fire disturbance.
What is Prescribed Fire?
Prescribed fire, also known as controlled burning, is the application of fire to an appropriate natural setting in a safe, responsible, and purposeful way.
Prescribed fire can reduce leaf and pine needle litter, as well as other woody debris that accumulates on the forest floor. This reduces the risk of wildfires that can be fast-moving and difficult to control. Reducing the litter and debris also creates growing space for plants and can provide bare soil that seeds need for germination. Fire suppression has not only led to the build-up of forest litter but has also contributed to a higher density of trees in our woodlands. Both of these factors have created a shift in fire-prone ecosystems as plants and wildlife adapted to natural fire disturbance became less abundant over time. Many of these species are now rare or absent in areas where they would have historically been found. Prescribed fire can help reduce woody vegetation and can promote the establishment of herbaceous plants – the grasses, forbs, and wildflowers that provide numerous wildlife resources. When prescribed fire is applied appropriately and on suitable sites, then multiple ecological benefits can be restored to these ecosystems.
In 2017, the Raleigh Parks successfully implemented their first controlled burn at Annie Louise Wilkerson, M.D. Nature Preserve. Moving forward, Raleigh Parks will again be utilizing prescribed fire to help manage some of our nature preserves and parks. As part of these efforts, stay tuned for more information, programs and on-site signage to learn more about prescribed fire.