The Fish and Wildlife Service Region 5 South Zone fire program, in conjunction with State and NGO partners, conducted a two-day workshop on grassland burning at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge March 9-10, 2016. The purpose of the workshop was to provide participants an opportunity for discussion and the application of fire in these habitats in a field setting. The primary focus of management at Rappahannock is restoring and maintaining a variety of grassland habitats, and prescribed fire has been an important part of that management for over 15 years. With a full schedule of fire treatments in 2016 this was an ideal time and location to conduct a workshop.
The first day of the workshop was spent discussing some of the initial considerations for planning and executing a burn project, including setting goals and objectives, determining burn prescriptions, identifying grassland fuels, and preparation work and strategies for project execution. This discussion was conducting in a classroom setting, with a follow-up field tour after lunch. The field tour afforded an opportunity to look at a variety of grasslands in a variety of conditions, and also to discuss the fire history of the individual fields. State Natural Heritage staff led a discussion of the vegetative composition of the fields, the wildlife benefits or deficiencies, and some strategies for habitat improvement.
The walking tour also enabled participants to discuss fireline options, including mowed lines, wet or blacklines, and the relationship between fuels, fire intensity and holding concerns. There was very productive discussion throughout the day concerning some of the environmental considerations for grassland management, including both the biological environment as well as the fire environment. At the conclusion of Day 1 there was a summary safety discussion of the relationship between the 10 standard fire orders and prescribed fire operations in this fuel type.
The workshop benefited from unseasonably warm and dry weather for early March, which lent itself to a training burn in one of the units slated for treatment on Day 2.
Trainer and trainee positions were established within the burn organization, and participants were able to apply various firing and holding techniques in a relatively controlled setting. In the course of the burn, a demonstration of a fire shelter deployment was set up within the burn unit to give participants a sense of the effectiveness and limits of the New Generation fire shelter.
A previously-opened shelter was deployed in a small green area surrounded by cured warm season grasses, to represent a realistic deployment site in this fuel type, and fire was run through the site. The fast-moving fire resulted in some brief flame impingement, but did not de-laminate the shelter or otherwise cause any damage. There was no device inside the shelter to measure temperature, but several items placed inside the shelter (plastic bottles, cotton cloth) suffered no apparent harm. See the link for the demonstration here.
Participants in the workshop included personnel from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s State Parks and Natural Heritage Divisions, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the National Park Service. A total of 28 personnel took part in the workshop. Well-established agreements and working relationships between all the agencies make this another example of an outstanding fire partnership in Virginia.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Wilson