Before European settlement, fire was a natural part of the ecology on the Texas rangelands. Many native plants not only survive fires, but actually depend on occasional fires to reseed and grow. Fire burns off woody plants that steal precious water resources to support their larger structures. Some prairie plants seeds require heat and abrasion to germinate.
Years ago, people began to suppress natural fires to protect homes and crops. In once open prairies, trees and woody plants grew, choking out grasses and forbs. Many wildlife species depend on forbs as their major food source and grassy habitats for shelter and cover. The loss of these prairies is causing major declines in many species.
“Prescribed burns” help restore healthy habitats. A prescribed burn is a fire that is planned and purposely set as a management tool when an area is suffering. A survey of plants and animals is taken. Water sources are located. An area is carefully selected and safety precautions are made, such as creating fire breaks so that the fire remains under control. The fire is set with biologists and firefighters nearby. After the fire, the area is monitored for regrowth.
Modern range managers rely on prescribed burns to:
- Improve access to pastures
- Improve the quality and access to forage and browse (animal food)
- Suppress brush and cacti species
- Control and improve selected forbs and grass species
- Improve grazing areas for livestock and wildlife
- Remove excess mulch and debris
- Control certain parasites and pests
- Improve the nutrient cycle
To learn more, contact your local county extension service or read more in this "Range Burning" (PDF 362.1 KB) publication (Adapted from Texas A&M “Prescribed Range Burning in Texas” by Larry D. White and C. Wayne Hanselka, Extension range specialists, Texas A&M University System.)