The reason behind these early season burns
On a Thursday in February, the TWRA and the Tennessee Forestry Division set out to perform a prescribed burn and Prentice Cooper State Forest and Wildlife Management Area.
"Even though it's rained almost eight inches in the past week, we're standing here two days later and we're almost in a position where we could have wildfires,” explained Brian Haddock of the Forestry Division. “We're doing a controlled burn on a day that almost everyone else is flooded."
Prentice Cooper is a 26,000 acre area the Division of Forestry manages for timber, wildlife, recreation and aesthetics.
"Our agency is a fire control agency, we specialize in fire,” said Haddock. “We have all of the equipment, we have the manpower. We understand fire and how it behaves."
The burn at Prentice Cooper serves two purposes really. The first of which is for the Forestry Division to get practice on firefighting methods and mitigation efforts. The second of which is really for the TWRA, who uses these burns as a reset button for natural habitat.
"It's like a reboot for it,” says Wildlife Manager, Clint Smith, “If you just let things go it will just continue on. You see like the pine trees behind me, those are like the early invaders into this open space. And then as time goes, you get more of the hardwood component into it and then it just continues developing into a thicket."
That invading growth poses a threat to a number of species that the TWRA is responsible for managing.
"A lot of our small game and our ground-nesting birds are in decline due to the loss of that particular habitat,” says Smith. “The bob-white quail, the game bird of the southeast...and it's been in a terrible decline for the last 40 or 50 years and we feel like that's one of the reasons behind its decline."
The idea for these burns, at least for the TWRA, is to get the land back to a more natural type landscape.
"In Tennessee we have plenty of hardwood forests, we have plenty of cow pastures, what we're missing is this early succession type oak field stuff."