Prescribed Burn

Prescribed Burn

Last Modified: 12/21/2020 06:41 PM

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A controlled burn – also known as a prescribed burn – refers to a fire set in a limited area to reduce invasive vegetation, promote the growth of native plant species and improve the quality of wildlife habitat. Controlled burns are conducted under the supervision of a team of fire experts to ensure the fire is safely managed and remains contained within the target area. Controlled burning mimics natural events and is one tool the Flood Control District can utilize in sparsely populated areas to help maintain ecologically sensitive areas such as prairies and some wetland habitats.

As an example, the Flood Control District conducted a controlled burn at a protected wetlands mitigation area it owns and maintains on the Katy Prairie in northwest Harris County. Regular controlled burns are recommended as part of the long-term maintenance of this ecologically sensitive area, to maintain prairie species and control invasive vegetation.

Controlled Burn on Flood Control District property at the Greens Bayou Wetlands Mitigation Bank

In the Winter of 2020/21, the Harris County Flood Control District is planning a controlled burn inside one section of its 961-acre Greens Bayou Wetlands Mitigation Bank, which is a protected wetlands mitigation area located inside Beltway 8 near Lockwood Road in northeast Harris County.

A controlled burn – also known as a prescribed burn – is a small, controlled fire that will be used to reduce invasive vegetation, promote the growth of native plant species and improve the quality of wildlife habitat on this property, which is a protected wetlands mitigation bank

Acorn Forestry, a state-certified burn management consultant based in Lufkin, will be conducting the controlled burn for the Flood Control District, and will notify all required agencies, such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Forest Service, Harris County emergency dispatch services and the local fire department. Controlled burns must be carefully planned and timed to minimize risk to residents and property, and to manage smoke. Timing is subject to weather conditions, including humidity, wind direction and wind speed. Therefore, a specific date for the burn has not yet been determined and will be chosen only as weather conditions and other factors allow.

Controlled Burn on Flood Control District Property in Northwest Harris County

On February 25, 2020, the Harris County Flood Control District conducted a controlled burn on its 440-acre tract, formally identified as HCFCD Unit K700-01-00, which is a protected wetlands mitigation area near the intersection of Katy Hockley and House & Hahl roads in northwest Harris County.

Raven Environmental Services, an experienced and state-certified burn management consultant based in Huntsville, notified all required regulatory agencies and completed the controlled burn for the Flood Control District.

For more information about wetlands creation at this site, please click here: www.hcfcd.org/F-24

Environmental benefits of controlled burns are numerous and well-established:

  • They help balance the need for herbicide usage in controlling unwanted invasive species such as Chinese tallow, Johnson grass and Macartney rose. If left unchecked, these invasives can choke out beneficial prairie grasses and other native vegetation.
  • They promote the germination of certain species – such as certain types of native wildflowers, grasses and forbs – by helping to release and disperse dormant seed pods.
  • By-products of the controlled burn provide important nutrients for native plants.
  • They produce healthier, more diverse and open habitat for wildlife.

Controlled burns must be carefully planned and timed to minimize risks to residents and property. Prior to any burn-related activities, the Flood Control District’s state-certified burn management consultants will notify all required regulatory agencies, including the Texas Forest Service, Harris County Emergency Dispatch, and local fire departments.

Controlled burns are conducted subject to weather conditions, including humidity and wind speed. The “80-20-20 rule” is often used for choosing a burn date: Temperatures of less than 80 degrees, humidity of more than 20 percent and wind speeds of less than 20 m.p.h.

The fires are lit by hand, and controlled through a series of fire breaks or nonflammable barriers, as well as by choosing weather conditions that naturally help control the prescribed burn.

Controlled burns are a benefit to native plants and animals that have adapted to fire. Prairie grasses, for example, which developed in ecosystems mostly lacking in trees and subject to frequent wildfires caused by lightning strikes, developed deep roots and the ability to regenerate from those roots. Birds and other small wildlife that are native to prairie habitat instinctively run, fly or seek shelter to escape danger. Wildlife returns quickly to the site of the controlled burn as it regenerates with native species and improved overall habitat.