A prescribed burn was held by the Botanical Research Institute in 2021. The City of Fort Worth is hosting a Prescribed Fire Workshop for landowners and land managers on Jan. 10-11 in Fort Worth. Photo by Michael Smith.
Dec. 15, 2023
North Texas is a region of prairies and oak woodlands. Highways and buildings have been built over them, and they’ve been cut and plowed for farmland, but grasslands and oaks are the heart of this place. And one of the ingredients of a region like this is fire. It’s not the same without fire.
While many people associate fire with its destructive nature, fire can used safely to rejuvenate natural areas and reduce the likelihood of damaging wildfires, said Jared Wood, Natural Resource Manager for Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.
Wood will be co-leading the Prescribed Fire Workshop on Jan. 10-11 at the Chisholm Trail Community Center and Park in Fort Worth.
The two-day workshop, hosted by the Fort Worth Park and Recreation Department, is aimed at land managers and landowners who want to learn how to use fire responsibly to retain their property’s natural ecology.
Cost is $20. Class size is limited. Register here.
NOT TOO SMALL TO BURN
A sidewalk winds through a prairie remnant at Chisholm Trail Park in Fort Worth. Photo by Micheal Smith.
Wood said that prescribed fire is an essential tool for keeping natural habitat healthy, no matter if it’s located in a big national park, a city park, or a pocket prairie within a ranch or preserve.
“There’s no space that’s too small to burn,” said Wood. “Fire was an instrumental part of maintaining the ecosystems in North Texas.”
Wood emphasized how woody species like shrubs and small trees can begin to take over grassland habitats.
“Many of our targets [for use of fire] are areas that were historically prairies that are being lost to encroachment by woody species,” he said.
Without occasional fires, grasslands can slowly become woodlands.
I also spoke with Jared Hall, the other co-leader of the workshop. Hall is a natural resource specialist within the park operations division of the Fort Worth Park and Recreation Department.
I asked him about the benefits of prescribed fire, and he checked off a big list.
“There is fuel reduction and a lower threat from wildfires,” he said.
American basketflower is a common sight on the prairie at Chisholm Trail Park. Photo by Michael Smith.
Over the years, a thicket of shrubs and small trees can grow and provide fuel for an out-of-control wildfire. A planned, small burn under the right conditions removes a lot of that fuel.
Additionally, a planned burn helps native plants, which are fire-adapted, have an edge over invasives.
“When fire is suppressed, we get a bunch of undesirable plants that are not fire-adapted that outcompete those that are fire-adapted. A lot of times these invasive plants are not good at sequestering carbon and aiding in water quality improvement and slowing and capturing water into aquifers and groundwater. Native plants that are fire-adapted are much better at providing those ecosystem services.”
A burn can also stimulate germination and growth of those native plants.
An added benefit of prescribed fires is they give local firefighters hands-on experience controlling grassland fires, making them more prepared to battle destructive wildfires.
“We use prescribed fires for training for the wildland fire team, so that’s another benefit [of the workshop,]” he said.
The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge was an early leader in the use of prescribed fire, teaming up with the Fort Worth Fire Department and others to maintain healthy prairies. And the Botanical Research Institute of Texas has, with a team that included Nature Center staff, used fire to maintain its one-and-a-half-acre demonstration prairie in the heart of Fort Worth.
A prescribed burn was held at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in 2023. It was the second prescribed burn held on the Institute's cultivated prairie. Video by Michael Smith.
Hall said that cities’ use of fire is increasing.
“Plano did their first burn in 2015. They burned just two or three weeks ago at Oak Point Preserve. McKinney did their first burn last year at Erwin Park. Frisco did one at Freedom Meadow in 2020 and last year with the help of the Nature Conservancy.”
Over 93 percent of Texas land is privately owned, and prescribed fire is just as relevant for keeping private lands healthy.
There are a number of resources for landowners who wish to use prescribed fire, Hall said.
“The Fort Worth Wildland Fire Team will provide resources and assist, though someone else has to be the burn boss.”
“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a whole program dedicated to teaching private landowners how to do prescribed fire on their own,” said Hall. “For the first few years they’ll come out with you when you burn, and over time they have less involvement and the landowner does it more independently.”
Firefighters closely monitor the fire line at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in January 2021. Photo by Michael Smith.
The upcoming workshop presenters include a variety of burn professionals such as Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Tarleton State University, the Nature Conservancy, and Fort Worth Fire Department.
“We [Hall and Wood] are not the experts on all things fire, but we know people who are,” said Hall. “We’re facilitating getting all those people together in one room with the audience.”
While Day One will be held in the classroom, on Day Two, the workshop staff will conduct a prescribed burn of a patch of prairie at Chisholm Trail Park. The property contains a remnant of Fort Worth Prairie that is registered as a “Native Texas Prairie” with the Native Prairies Association of Texas.
Workshop participants can observe the process of using prescribed fire.
The deadline for registration is Jan. 5, with a $20 fee. The Day One presentation will be held at the Chisholm Trail Community Center, 4936 McPherson Blvd., located on the same property as the Chisholm Trail Park.
About 40 participants are anticipated, and 20 are already signed up. Hall encouraged those who are interested to register soon.
Dried remnants of last year's flowers and grasses at Chisholm Trail Park. Photo by Michael Smith.
Prescribed Burn Workshop
Hosted by: The Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department
About: A two-day workshop covering rules, regulations, resources and ways to incorporate fire as a cost-effective tool. Day 1 will be held in the classroom. Day 2 attendees will be able to observe a live fire.
When: Jan. 10-11, 2024
Where: Day 1: Chisholm Trail Community Center, 4936 McPherson Blvd., Fort Worth. Day 2: Chisholm Trail Park, 4680 McPherson Blvd.
Cost: $20. Class is limited. Registration required. Register here.
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