"Burning on the Edge" - Virginia Prescribed Fire Council hosts first annual meeting at Poc

The Virginia Prescribed Fire Council held its first annual meeting at Pocahontas State Park on September 14. Nearly 90 council members from across the state were in attendance; representing federal, state, and private sectors. Themed “Burning on the Edge,” the meeting was centered on prescribed fire topics that are both timely and critically important to natural resource managers and landowners in Virginia.

State Forester Bettina Ring gave the day’s opening presentation, discussing the role of partnerships in prescribed fire. Ring stated the Virginia Department of Forestry is taking a new look at prescribed fire by increasing work with partner agencies, the restoration of early successional habitat, and site prep burning after timber harvests. As agencies come together to achieve common management goals, Ring emphasized that each agency must stay true to its core values but must also continue to have those difficult conversations as they arise to build and strengthen the trust between agencies.

Ring also introduced five key management strategies that align with natural resource agencies and further strengthen colloboration. The “Give Me Five” strategies are: 1) protecting healthy watersheds, 2) ensuring wood supply, 3) restoring diminished ecosystems, 4) identifying priority conservation areas, and 5) preserving Virginia’s cultural heritage.

Marc Puckett, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, presented Ms. Ring with the Fire Bird Conservation Award on behalf of the National Bobwhite Quail Initiative. The contributions to wild bobwhite restoration by entities and/or individuals in six states claimed the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Awards during ceremonies at the annual meeting of the nation’s bobwhite experts in Iowa recently. Award recipients are chosen by the respective NBCI-member state’s quail coordinator for their contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite populations.

The award’s name symbolizes the historic reliance of bobwhites on fire in much of its range to maintain the landscape in an early successional stage, that is, in the native grasses, wildflowers and “weeds” providing bobwhites with suitable habitat. Both wildfires and fires intentionally set by landowners to clear farm fields and woodlots historically resulted in abundant habitat for bobwhites, as well as numerous other wildlife species. The term “fire bird” in relation to bobwhites was first coined by naturalist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.

Dr. Theron Terhune, Game Bird Program Director at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, delivered the meeting’s keynote speech entitled “Return the Burn, Restore the Ecosystem”. Terhune discussed his research on bobwhite quail populations and responses to presence (or lack of) fire. He advised land managers not to get “caught up” trying to manage habitat towards historical conditions because it impossible to do so. Humans today simply don’t accurately know what the landscape looked like 200+ years ago, and with changing climates and conditions, the landscape may never return to what it once looked like. To manage habitat for wildlife species, such as bobwhite quail, land managers must be intentional with conservation actions and decisions. Future landscape conditions must be developed using adaptive management techniques; what are the objectives and what can be realistically achieved? Terhune emphasized that fire is not just one single event, it is a process. Desired changes will not occur overnight; it may take many entries and/or a combination of other mechanical or chemical treatments. Another key takeaway were three steps to returning fire to the ecosystem: the burn interval, the burn size, and the burn timing. He went on to say land managers should first focus on restoring the burn interval; once that has been reestablished the focus can shift toward burn size and timing.

Rebecca Wilson (DCR) and Jim Schroering (VDOF) were among several speakers throughout the meeting. They presented information on the Longleaf Pine restoration efforts in Virginia. Bobby Clontz (DCR) gave an informative presentation about developing prescribed fire prescriptions to meet established burn objectives.

With the conclusion of the first Fire Council Meeting, steering committee members have been working on reviewing feedback from attendees and beginning the initial planning for a meeting next year.

On behalf of the Virginia Prescribed Fire Council Steering Committee, THANK YOU to all attendees and presenters!

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