Prescribed burn

A firefighter with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department lights a fire in dry grass for a prescribed burn March 21 on South Post at Fort McCoy.

Several prescribed burns have already taken place at Fort McCoy in 2019, including recent prescribed burns at areas on both North Post and South Post.

Charles Mentzel, Fort McCoy forestry technician who oversees the prescribed burn program, said the burns are completed with a large team of personnel assisting.

This includes personnel with the Fort McCoy Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department; Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch; Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security; and the Colorado State University Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, under contract with the post. New forestry technician Leigh Neitzel also assists with the prescribed burns.

The first prescribed burn of 2019 took place along miles of railroad track on South Post on March 21, Mentzel said. The prescribed burn team was able to clear dry, dead grass from along the railway that could possibly catch fire from trains passing through.

“Our approach doesn’t change much from year to year,” Mentzel said. “We focus on the ranges to reduce fuels available for wildfires that could stall military training.”

As of April 1, the burn team completed the annual burns on ranges. Next is ecological prescribed burns in training areas.

Mentzel said prescribed burns improve wildlife habitat, control invasive plant species, restore and maintain native plant communities, and reduce wildfire potential.

“Prescribed burns benefit the environment many ways and are one of the tools we can use on a large scale to improve our wild habitat,” he said.

Mentzel said prescribed burns help set back invasive species, and they burn up their seed banks. Burns also give native species an opportunity to compete against some of the non-native species, as many native species depend on fire to help stimulate them and set back non-native species.

“The burns also set back small trees and shrubs and make them grow again from the stump,” Mentzel said. “This allows for more food for deer and other animals and removes unwanted (tree) species from the understory, such as white pines growing underneath an oak forest.”

Prescribed burns will likely continue into late spring as conditions allow, then will pick up again in the fall. Mentzel added that later in April, the Fort McCoy prescribed burn team will be working with Wisconsin National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk crews to conduct “Bambi Bucket” fire training as well.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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