There was a time years ago when I worked as a journalist for Willamette Industries, creating and producing newsletters about how the company’s policies promoted good habitat for wildlife. One of the events I visited as an observer was watching as professionals in the industry deliberately set fires, prescribed fires, for the good not only for timber growing on the lands but for wildlife living on the company’s acreage.
There are fires burning now on timber lands, especially in southwest Louisiana that are anything but prescribed; these are out of control wildfires like the ones we often read about devastating hundreds of thousands of acres out west.
Todd Martin President and CEO of Southern Loggers Cooperative. Martin provided insight into prescribed fires versus wildfires.
“One of the most valuable tools used in the forestry industry are prescribed fires. These are intentionally set. Weather conditions have to be right where there is little or no chance that the fire intentionally set doesn’t turn into a wildfire,” said Martin.
Wildlife such as deer, turkey and quail benefit from prescribed fire in that beneficial browse and tender forage plants are generated. When a wildfire goes through, it chars and burns everything which seriously limits what wildlife have available, according to Martin.
“What we are seeing now in Louisiana is an outbreak of wildfires from a standpoint I have never seen in my career,” he added.
Martin gave some mind-boggling information about the extent of these fires raging around the state, especially in southwest Louisiana. “In the month of August alone,” he said, “our state has responded to 522 fires covering over 61,000 acres. The two biggest fires are the one known as the Tiger Island fire involving over 31,000 acres with the Highway 113 fire near Pitkin covering some 8500 acres. Most of these fires are only about 50% contained so there is much work to continue until they’re extinguished. What is needed is a good prolonged rain over the affected area, something that is not in the long-range forecast as of now.
“Last week we held meetings in Lake Charles and you could look out the window of the building where we met and actually see the Tiger Island fires burning 40 miles away. This situation is more serious than people realize,” Martin said. Three years ago, the forests in southwest Louisiana were devastated when Hurricane Laura destroyed much of the timber in the area where the fires are located today. According to Martin, the timber destroyed by the hurricane was replanted with new trees that were growing and doing well. The fires blazing in that area today have virtually wiped out all the new growth of timber that was replanted.
How did these wildfires get started? A TV news report this week indicated that fires were deliberately set with a hefty reward waiting for someone who can identify the culprit who set southwest Louisiana ablaze. Right now, the entire state is under a burn ban and if heeded should keep other fires from igniting under these extremely dry conditions.
Keeping our eyes on the skies for rain clouds and praying that we’ll soon get rain seems to be an obvious plan of action that will extinguish these raging fires and preventing new ones from cropping up.