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Prescribed Fire - March 2002

On March 21st and 24th, 2002, personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the first prescribed fires in Patuxent Research Refuge's 66-year history. These burns are the initial projects of the Refuge's annual prescribed fire plan. Several more burns are planned for the Spring, dependent on favorable weather conditions. This important, and widely used, tool has been added to Refuge management after a long and thoughtful planning process, which began in 1999 with the development of a Refuge Fire Management Plan, as mandated by Service policy. All planning documents were approved in the summer of 2001, and the spring of 2002 was targeted for the first burns.

FWS Fire Truck
FWS prescribed fire

Objectives of prescribed burning on the Refuge include habitat maintenance and restoration, the control of exotic and invasive species, support for existing research projects, and the opportunity for new research on the effects of fire in a representative area of a Mid-Atlantic state. A reduction in hazardous fuel build-ups is also an important fire management objective, especially in light of the many developed areas neighboring the Refuge.

Refuge prescribed fire
controlled fire

Fields, meadows and other open areas on the Refuge, and elsewhere, are typically       maintained by yearly mowing. While mowing keeps these areas open by cutting down woody invaders, such as sweetgum, it does not eliminate them, and it also does not reduce the build-up of a thatch layer at the surface. Burning open areas on the Refuge provides an ecologically sound alternative to yearly mowing, will damage woody invaders, reduce the thatch layer, stimulate growth and create a more diverse habitat for wildlife. By burning in the Spring, it is also hoped that damage will be done to non-native cool season grasses, such as tall fescue, reducing their percentage of the overall cover, and stimulate growth of native warm season grasses, which sprout later in the growing season.

.    After fire

It is hoped that prescribed fires will become a common yearly occurrence on the Refuge. Much will be learned from the 2002 burns. Plans are already being developed for 2003, and the knowledge gained from this year's fires will help guide this planning process.


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