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Prescribed fire brings life to Wayne National Forest

NELSONVILLE — Fire helps maintain healthy oak forests, according to scientists who study native plants, birds, and other wildlife. That’s why the Wayne National Forest uses fire as a tool to restore southern Ohio forests.

“Fire rejuvenates the forest. It increases nutrient availability, favors some plants over others, and can remove some of the leaf litter and smaller trees and brush. This lets more sunlight into the forest floor, which is important for regenerating oak and hickory trees, and many sun-loving plants,” said Ironton District Ranger Tim Slone.

Prescribed fire is a planned fire that is overseen by professional firefighters. Spring marks the beginning of the forest’s prescribed burn season, during which professionals plan to burn up to 1,710 acres through May 31, on the Ironton Ranger District. Burn areas include the following:

Lake Vesuvius Prescribed Burn

• Size: Approximately 450 acres

• Location: Lawrence County, Elizabeth Township, in the vicinity of Lake Vesuvius.
Bluegrass Prescribed Burn

• Size: Approximately 1260 acres

• Location: Lawrence County, Aid Township, in the vicinity of County Road 19.

Prescribed fires are performed under specific weather conditions and are designed to mimic fire that historically occurred on the forest. The Wayne National Forest follows strict guidelines for conducting prescribed burns and uses environmental factors including temperature, humidity, atmospheric stability, and wind direction and speed, as well as smoke dispersion. If any of these conditions are not within limits, the burns will be postponed.

Through prescribed fire, the Wayne National Forest hopes to accomplish the following:

• Encourage the growth of a diverse array of plant life, including sun-loving plants and grasses.

• Ensure oaks remain the keystone species in our forests. Oaks provide food for many different animals. Using fire to bring light into our forests helps oaks grow. Without fire, shade-tolerant species will take over and eventually replace oak as the dominant species in our forest.

• Perpetuate oak barrens and woodlands found within the forest. These remnant plant communities provide habitat for several species that depend on young forest habitat.

Maintaining these open woodland conditions with prescribed fire increases biodiversity in both plant and animal species.

To learn more about prescribed burning on the Wayne, contact the Wayne National Forest Public Affairs Office at 740-753-0862.