Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
At the end of March, the Directorate of Public Works and Fort Leavenworth Fire and Emergency Services are planning to conduct controlled burns at three areas on post.
“A prescribed burn is when a land manager uses fire to remove vegetation for some natural resource goal,” said Neil Bass, DPW natural resources specialist.
Controlled burns provide several benefits for wildlife and native plant growth.
“Some people use it to stimulate grass for grazing and (livestock). It can also be used to stimulate forbs and vegetation, which benefit native wildlife, and it can also stimulate regrowth on trees, which is good for deer,” Bass said. “It also promotes forb diversity and forb growth, which are good for pollinators. It can also clear vegetation.”
Additionally, controlled burns get rid of nonnative vegetation.
“It gets rid of invasive species or at least makes them more susceptible to other treatment in the future,” Bass said.
The three areas that will be targeted for the controlled burn include 160 acres in Area F of Sherman Army Airfield, a small portion on the northwest side of the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, and a 10-acre ditch near the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
Bass said these areas are being targeted to remove various hazards and security issues including eliminating large areas of vegetation and trees at SAAF so aircraft have a safer landing space and eliminating the large area of vegetation in front of the USDB to eliminate potential hiding spots if an inmate were to escape.
“All the security benefits are based on removing the visual obstructions that are in this area,” Bass said.
The scheduled burns will depend on the weather, including proper fuel moisture, wind speed and direction, cloud cover and temperature.
The carbon output from the fire will be limited, Bass said.
“Native grasses actually store a lot of carbon underground in their root system, so while there will be this huge flush of carbon as we burn, it will release in the smoke,” Bass said. “There will be a net benefit of a lot more carbon being stored underground because 70 percent of warm season grasses’ biomass is actually located below ground in the soil and won’t be burned off.”
Along with the natural resource and safety benefits, a controlled burn also saves money.
“If they weren’t being burned off and killed and removed, (the installation) would have to pay for manpower to go in and treat those things,” Bass said. “Those mechanical controls take a lot of equipment, herbicide and manpower.”
The burns serve a dual purpose as training for the Fort Leavenworth Fire Department.
“Firefighters preplan the burn sites and become very familiar with the terrain and vegetation,” said Fort Leavenworth Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Chief of Training Edgar Guerra. “This is similar to preplanning a building for fires and other emergencies where firefighters become familiar with the layout of the building, identify hazards, locate utility shutoffs and the most likely locations involved in an emergency incident.
“Prescribed burns allow the firefighters to learn the fire’s behavior for those locations,” he said. “These prescribed burns are started and controlled by the firefighters in the same ways they would fight and control a wildfire.”