OCC Joins Oklahoma Prescribed Fire Council

The increasing spread of eastern redcedar and other invasive plant species in Oklahoma has increased the interest of many individuals and organizations in prescribed burning.

Before settlement, wildfires, started by lightning, swept the plains periodically. Native Americans set fires intentionally in the spring and fall to improve habitat for wildlife. Prescribed burning is the least expensive and a very effective method of dealing with invasive plants species, but does require labor, equipment and specialized knowledge. One purpose of forming associations is to pool and share those types of resources.

“It is just crucial that we use prescribed fire, in safe and legal ways, to prevent the continued degradation of our rural landscapes in Oklahoma,” said Jay Pruett. Pruett is conservation director for the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, one of the member organizations of the newly-formed Oklahoma Prescribed Fire Council (OPFC).

“Without fire, ranch land is lost to invasive species such as eastern redcedar and other encroaching tree and brush species, and wildlife habitat is dramatically altered,” Pruett said. “The Oklahoma Prescribed Fire Council is aimed at mustering a concerted effort among agencies, organizations and private landowners to facilitate the implementation of prescribed fire in our rural lands by removing as many barriers to that occurring as possible.”

During the May meeting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Commissioners unanimously approved a motion for the agency to join the council.

“Another benefit of removing eastern redcedars is to remove the possible threat of them burning in wildfires,” said Darrel Dominick. Dominick is OCC’s Tribal Outreach coordinator and will represent the agency on the council. “With thin bark and fine, flammable foliage that contains a high volume of volatile oil, redcedars are especially susceptible to wildfire,” Dominick added. The trees can act as a “fire ladder,” carrying the flame from grass fires to the crowns of other tree species, he said. And while many people may like the privacy of the thick growing evergreens, they don’t realize the fire danger of letting them spread too near to homes.

The stated purpose of OPFC is to promote the implementation of prescribed fire as a natural resource management tool. The council’s goal is to make prescribed burning a common and relatively easy land management tool. The group also seeks to facilitate education for the public and training programs for landowners and local burn association members in the safe, legal and effective use of prescribed fire. OPFC will incorporate the principals of the FireWise program endorsed by the Forestry Services Division of the Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. The group is also attempting to address liability limits for properly-conducted burns through legislation and indemnity funds.

Other organizations that have joined OPFC to date include the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Oklahoma Association of Conservation District Employees, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oklahoma State University, OSU Extension Service, Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Noble Foundation and the Cross Timbers Burn Association.