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work in building management, nature education, and native plant gardening.

Fire in Central Texas

“Prescribed burning will do more to improve habitat for deer and numerous other wildlife than any other practice. Prescribed burning is also considered the ‘cheapest, most effective habitat management technique.’ ” – TPWD website


CbcuIrtVAAAF92ZWildfires were once essential to Texas. Grasses and understory plants used to burn at intervals of two to five years. Those fires not only determined the mix of flora and fauna that made up the ecosystem, they also regenerated the land.

When humans with property, houses, and ranches arrived, humans began to suppress any fire that came upon the landscape. They protected their property. Now, a group of Central Texas specialists are bringing fire back. Depending on their mission, they seek to sustain habitat for endangered animals and/or enhance water’s infiltration of the aquifer.

While catastrophic fires cause untold damage to life and property, carefully controlled burns help keep wildfire fuel in check. Different types of prescribed burns are used in Central Texas, depending on what the fire managers want to accomplish. Some of these missions and lands present unique challenges to the fire starters.

I recently spoke with Carl Schwope, the Fire Management Officer at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located west of Austin, the refuge’s primary purpose is to protect the nesting habitat of two endangered migratory birds — the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. These birds have two different habitats. Keeping the birds happy with their area of the forest is Schwope’s job.

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