Johnny Morgan | 1/31/2019 3:49:50 PM
(01/31/19) CLINTON, La. — Understanding how to extinguish a fire is a needed lesson for many, but for some LSU students, the proper way to start a fire was the lesson in a recent class.
LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Niels de Hoop took 20 students in his prescribed burning class to the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station on Jan. 25 to learn all aspects of controlled burning of pine forests.
The goal of the class is to teach the students the proper steps required before starting a controlled burn of a forest.
“They learn how to read instruments that show them things like wind speed and direction, relative humidity,” de Hoop said.
Before the 1980s, controlled burns were fairly common, but liability issues have made the practice almost non-existent in many areas.
It’s understandable why some people are not willing to take the chance of burning another person’s property. But with the proper techniques, fire can be a valuable conservation practice, de Hoop said.
“Prescribed burning is used to reduce dead vegetation, pine straw and other fuel that could allow a wildfire to get out of control,” he said.
Burning helps pine timber stands because other vegetation that competes for nutrients is reduced and wildlife habitat is improved, he said.
Prescribed burning is not a new practice. The practice dates to prehistoric times, when 20 to 25 percent of Louisiana forests burned annually, started either by lightning or by native populations.
“Early humans would burn forests to improve growing conditions for wild food sources,” de Hoop said. “They also cleared land using fire and to drive game out for hunting,”
In Louisiana, burning is mainly done in pine forests because of pine’s thick bark, which provides protective insulation from heat, he said. Hardwood trees are not as resilient to heat.
Burning is done either during winter or spring, he said. Long ago, settlers set controlled fires early enough that grass would be available for grazing cattle in spring.
“We would like to see more people burning because there’s an interest in bringing back longleaf pine and bluestem grass-type ecosystems,” he said.
The Gulf South used to have about 90 million acres of this type of ecosystem, but it is now down to about 2 million to 3 million acres of it, he said.
Four native pine species in Louisiana are longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly and slash pines. These are known as the yellow pines in the lumber industry.
“It’s my goal within this class to get them certified as prescribed burners so they know what the parameters are of actually doing a burn,” he said.
Prescribed burning is only one of the many activities forestry students learn. In March, they will host the annual forestry conclave, de Hoop said.
This is an opportunity for them to show off other skills they’ve learned, such as tree identification, compass reading, pacing and timber estimation, he said.
This is the first time LSU has hosted the 14 Southern region universities since spring 2000.
LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Niels de Hoop prepares students in his prescribed burning class for their assignments during a controlled burning of pine forests at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station on Jan. 25. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Niels de Hoop shows forestry senior Cheyenne Fouts how to check humidity and other weather conditions before a controlled burning of pine forest at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station on Jan. 25. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Students prepare a controlled burn of pine forests at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station on Jan. 25 as part of LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Niels de Hoop’s prescribed burning class. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter