If you planned to do some hiking on that nature trails at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores today, be aware that the park system has planned a prescribed burn there today as part of a forest management plan associated with longleaf pine restoration, fuel reduction and invasive species control. The planned burn will take place south of the Orange Beach Sportsplex in pitcher plant bog habitat.
This burn complies with a permit from the Alabama Forestry Commission. Every effort is being made to ensure safety and proper smoke management during the burn.
The Park System claims that prescribed fire is an important forest management tool used to improve ecosystems. Pitcher plant bogs thrive after prescribed burns because the burns reduce the number of small trees and shrubs that shade these sun loving plants.
According to forestry managers, prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process that benefits various habitats and ensures ecosystem health.
Wildlife habitat and animals such as deer, turkeys, and quail flourish in areas that are maintained with prescribed fire. Some rare animals such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and the gopher tortoise require fire-adapted habitats.
Prescribed burning is also an effective tool to reduce the risk of wildfire by reducing the buildup of combustible material. Out of control forest fires, especially in windy drought conditions can be disastrous to both humans and wildlife.
In Alabama, prescribed burns can be safely conducted throughout the year if there is sufficient moisture. Cool season burns are used to reduce forest litter and to help prevent forest fires. Growing season burns are often used to control the choking underbrush in a stand of mature trees and are conducted from early spring to late summer.
One of the primary uses for prescribe burning is the maintenance of wildlife habitat. Controlled burning helps to rejuvenate high quality natural food sources for many species including white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkey. The burning of undergrowth can release nutrients into the soil which stimulates the growth of high-quality native grasses, forbs and legumes. Unlike most supplemental wildlife plantings, controlled burning can provide year-round protective cover and food for wildlife on managed land.
Controlled burns are especially important in stands of longleaf pine. Most of the early nineteenth century pine forests in Alabama the first settlers found were longleaf pine dominated. Those forests were cleared and most of the state turned into farm fields. When most of the state was reforested in the twentieth century, most of the forests were replanted in the faster growing loblolly pine. The longleaf pines are very fire tolerant.
The Alabama State Parks Division relies on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations.
To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit their website.