Wildlife technicians help ensure a healthy forest

27 Mar 2006 | Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen

A small group of people help protect the wildlife, training areas and the base. They do this with one of the first and oldest tools still used today – fire.

The Forestry Section of the Marine Corps Base Environmental Management Branch conduct prescribed burning throughout the training area to cut back on vegetation, which can cause fire hazards in the summer, according to Wayne Gray, a forestry technician with the branch.

“When we cut down on [dried brush and grass] we increase the safety of troops training in the field by removing fire hazards,” said Gray.

Most of the trees that make up the timber in North Carolina need fire occasionally to create and maintain the proper environment for them to flourish. Pines have think bark that is very fire-resistant, so prescribed fire is an extremely effective tool in pine forest management, according to the North Carolina Forestry Association.

The burns also help the red cocked woodpecker and native species of plants, because they like recently burned areas and cleared spaces, according to Gray.

Different areas of the base are burned by specific schedules, according to Gray. Some areas are burned every three years but others are burned more regularly such as the impact areas, which are more at risk to catching on fire.

The burns also cut down on different unwanted insects such as ticks, chiggers and the southern pine beetle, according to Gray. The southern pine beetle is especially harmful to trees because they eat away the living part of a tree under the bark until it dies.

There are many things that are taken into account when a control fire is lit. Technicians must know different aspects of the weather such as wind direction and speed, humidity and temperature.

“The nice thing about the ranges on the base is they allow us to keep the smoke on the base and not blowing out into to town,” said Gray.

Technicians light the brush and dried grass with drip torches, which drip flammable liquid from a flame. The technicians walk in line lighting brush about ten feet from each other. The fire grows from that spot and meets other flames till it grows into a larger ring. A backfire is also lit, which creates a boundary for the fire. The backfire burns all the fuel in the area behind the head fire so that it can grow past a certain point.

The technicians use a modified blowtorch for the backfire. The torch can shoot flame 15-20 feet, according to Gray.

The Forestry section sometimes burns 500-1000 acres in a single burn, according to Gray. In a single year, the section can burn 20,000- 25,000 acres per year with only 25-30 different burns.

North Carolina has more than 19 million acres of forests and timberlands. About 80 percent of the state’s forests and timberlands are owned by individuals and timber companies.