This blog post was originally written by Thomas Coleman and published on Gravatt's blog in February 2014. It has been updated.
Fire has always been a part of the southern landscape, from lightening fires to its use by native Americans and early settlers as a management tool. Fire is also a part of Gravatt's mission to be good stewards of our environment. Gravatt’s forest management plan prescribes the use of fire in our forests. Prescribed fire is used to accomplish many management goals. We use fire to maintain and improve the aesthetics of this property. Prescribed burns are also conducted to control insects and diseases that could be damaging to our forests. One primary purpose of burning is to control hardwood, non native plant species. Fire assists in improving habitat for wildlife by maintaining plant communities that wildlife requires by promoting seed germination for native plant species. Many wildlife species benefit from prescribed fire. Fire can remove thick undergrowth, making travel and feeding much easier for some species such as turkey and deer, also promoting growth of valuable food plants such as legumes. Many plant and animal species are dependent on periodic fire to create an ecosystem suitable for their growth and reproduction. Fire is also useful tool in reducing fuel levels assisting in protection from wild fires. Wild fires in areas where prescribed burns have been used cause less damage and are easier to control than areas that are not regularly burned, by removing fuel (like leaves, pine needles, and twigs), the chances of a damaging wildfire is greatly reduced.
Gravatt’s forests are divided into five stands, these stands are burned on different years on a three to five year rotation. These rotations allow for undisturbed wildlife habitat and time for proper growth of plant species. Our burns are typically conducted in the dormant season in January or February for more favorable weather, lower fire temperatures for less root and canopy damage. When using fire for management purposes we create a prescribed fire plan based on our goals, this plan outlines the suitable conditions involving weather to safely and effectively reach these goals.
In 2015, program director Thomas Coleman and intern Winston Collins attended a training that qualifies them to supervise Gravatt's burn, which will enable Gravatt to burn on a more consistent cycle.
Our prescribed burns at Gravatt provide great opportunities for continual environmental stewardship, while showcasing our natural resources through educating our guests and campers on the benefits of prescribed fire and other management techniques utilized at Gravatt.