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Prescribed Fire in Ohio

Prescribed fire in progress

"Prescribed fire" refers to fires that are intentionally lit, under predetermined conditions, to meet various resource management objectives. When managed carefully, prescribed fire can be used as a very effective tool to promote and stimulate certain species of native vegetation, and reduce hazardous accumulations of wildland fuels. Prescribed fire has a become a practice that is used widely in Ohio by local, state, and federal land management agencies, particularly in prairie environments and oak-hickory ecosystem types.

Prescribed fires may be conducted during spring and fall months (March, April, May, October and November) when outdoor burning is otherwise prohibited by Ohio Revised Code 1503.18, but only with the written permission of the Chief of the Division of Forestry. To obtain permission, individuals must request a waiver of ORC 1503.18 from ODNR Division of Forestry. Details and provisions on parties that may be issued a waiver can be found in Ohio Administrative Code 1501:3-13-01. The standard forms associated with conducting prescribed fires in Ohio can be found on the Prescribed Fire  Required Forms for Practitioners page.

The Ohio Division of Forestry manages the Ohio Certified Prescribed Fire Manager (OCPFM) program. Through a combination of classroom training and required experience, this program provides an Ohio-specific certification to natural resource managers to facilitate their issuance of burn waivers. The 4-day OCPFM training course is generally offered every other year.  Details on this course and other prescribed fire training opportunities will be posted when available.

Benefits of Prescribed Burns

Wildland fire (fire that burns on forest, range and grasslands) is an historical component of healthy forests. Fire plays an important role in many of Ohio’s diverse ecosystems. The Ohio DNR Division of Forestry, in partnerships with Ohio’s fire departments and private land owners, works hard to manage prescribed fire so that it safely benefits Ohio’s valuable natural resources.

Fire promotes the growth of native, fire-adapted vegetation, which is increasingly being crowded out by species that survive better in ecosystems that do not have fire. For example, in Ohio and other parts of the midwest, maple stands are quickly replacing forests that were once dominated by oak, a valuable wildlife and timber species.

Routine, low-intensity fire can improve forest health by reducing levels of pests and disease. Vegetation growth after a fire is often more vigorous, improving forests’ natural defenses against infestations. When managed carefully, fire may also help native species out-compete invasive, noxious species.

In Ohio, fire is often used to encourage healthy ecosystems. Fire increases soil nutrients, stimulates vegetation growth, and provides important habitat for wildlife, including shelter and food.

Fire cleans and recycles dead trees and vegetation. In the absence of fire, many forests accumulate large amounts of dead, woody materials. This buildup has the potential to fuel large, uncontrolled fires that may threaten homes, communities and ecosystems. ODNR Division of Forestry "fights fire with fire” by using controlled (or prescribed) burns to carefully return fire to its historical role and reduce dangerous forest fuel levels.

Prescribed burns are carefully planned, watched, and tended. Trained fire managers burn selected areas to remove weedy plants that choke out native species and to reduce the leaf litter and woody debris on the forest floor, creating space for native vegetation to return.

History

The use of fire in managing woodlands and grasslands is a time-honored practice. Native Americans routinely burned the landscape around them to aid farming, improve hunting, and protect villages from wildfires. Early settlers copied the practice, continuing to use fire as a tool for managing woodlands and converting grasslands to pastures and croplands. As settlement activity increased, burning practices continued, but lack of attention to controls caused intolerable damage.

The role of fire in maintaining Ohio’s forests was largely lost in the early 1900s as society grew intolerant of uncontrolled burning. Fires were suppressed as soon as possible. The long-term effect was a buildup of dead, woody materials that fuel more than 800 wildfires in the state yearly and threaten dozens of homes and other structures. Even more telling, the absence of fire allowed invasive plants to flourish and fostered the decline of the mighty oak as Ohio’s dominant tree species.

Oak trees are the keystone species of the forest ecosystem within Ohio. And when deer, squirrel, wild turkey and other forest wildlife are at a loss for acorns – an important food source – their populations suffer. Oak is also highly valued by woodworkers and the state’s $15 billion forest products industry.