2020: A Strange Year for Prescribed Burn Training

The 2020 Prescribed Burn Workshop almost did not happen due to the strange times we are in. If Louisiana had not moved to Phase Two of the White House plan for reopening towards a more normal life, then this training would not have occurred. The failure to have this event would have prevented some citizens from becoming Louisiana Certified Burn Managers (CBMs).

Even when this event occurred, the host of this training, the Louisiana Ecological Forestry Center (LEAF Center), arranged for wider spacing of student seating and for plenty of hand sanitizer. The rules for spacing required fewer student to attend. Normally dozens of students would have participated in this training.

The LEAF Center, formerly Hodges Gardens, recently joined the LSU AgCenter, the LA Department of Agriculture & Forestry, and the LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a partner for this event. The A. J. and Nona Trigg Hodges Foundation created the LEAF Center to promote both conservation and ecological education of the longleaf ecosystem in central Louisiana. Mr. Rodney McKay is the property manager of the LEAF Center and was the hospitable host for this PB workshop.

Dr. Niels de Hoop, LSU forestry professor, was the lead instructor. The classroom topics included: reasons for controlled fire, fuels, burning techniques, proper tools, optimal weather conditions, smoke management, liability management, planning, fire behavior and more. This training will begin the process of becoming LA Certified Burn Manager. The completion of five prescribed fires and their documentation will complete the process.

The centerpiece of the classroom segment of the training was the preparation the burn plan, a vital document for liability protection. The plan also included the steps for effective smoke management.

The highlight of the week is to use the training and the burn plan to “put fire on the ground”. McKay provided two potential burn sites, a small one-acre area and a large 90-acre area. If the weather was suitable, then the large tract would provide large scale “live fire” training. If the weather were suboptimal, the small site would be the training area.

At the pre-burn meeting, Dr. de Hoop, the students, and the collaborators from LDAF and LDWF discussed weather and team assignments. After evaluating the weather onsite, McKay and de Hoop advised the students that the small one-acre site would be the burn site. McKay discussed his preparation for the burn site and offered his guidance to execute the burn. After meeting onsite, students made a firebreak for a test burn with hand tools and learned the practical use of these tools.

Once the test site was prepared, the test burn started. Students and collaborators observed the wind and its effect on fire behavior.

After these observations, McKay and de Hoop conferred with the students and decided to end the test burn and to not burn the entire one-acre site. The reason to cancel the burn was that the conditions were not favorable, and dry duff was going to endanger old desirable longleaf pines. These trees are important to the LEAF Center for aesthetic reasons, and McKay wanted to preserve these large specimen trees for future visitors to the Center.

The group returned to the classroom to evaluate the events of the day and discussed other topics at the indoor segment of the training. The next day saw a review of topics and then testing. Some positive outcomes resulted from this week of training and included:

  • Seven people passed the classroom stage of becoming a CBM.
  • The test burn counted toward one of the five burns required to be a CBM.
  • Collaboration with the LA Ecological Forestry Center.
  • An important part of prescribed burning is knowing when NOT to burn. For the first time in ten years, a burn was called off at the PB workshop due to unsuitable conditions, and this decision represented a teachable moment.

If you want to be on the “sooty boots” email list to receive updates about future PB workshops, please contact Keith Hawkins, Area Forestry Agent, 337-463-7006 or khawkins@agcenter.lsu.edu.

“This work has been supported, in part, by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Renewable Resources Extension Act Award, Accession Number 1011417.”

1_fig_dont_ever_go_to_2020jpgDo not Ever Go to 2020 meme. Photo: Back to the Future movie, 1985.

2_fig_classroomjpgStudents at PB training maintained social distance.
Photo: Keith Hawkins, LSU AgCenter.

Rodney McKay at a pre-burn meeting.
Photo: Keith Hawkins.

4_fig_Dr_Niels_jpgDr. Niels de Hoop leading the PB workshop.
Photo: Keith Hawkins.

5_fig__pre_burn_meetingjpgDr. de Hoop at the pre-burn meeting.
Photo: Keith Hawkins.

6_fig_firebreak_constructionjpgFirebreak construction before test burn.
Photo: Keith Hawkins.

7_fig_starting_testjpgStarting the test burn.
Photo: Keith Hawkins.

7/9/2020 2:01:19 PM
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