Wildlife Benefit from Spring Prescribed Fires


Turkey hunters meet with a wildland fire manager to discuss a prescribed burn intended to restore healthy forest wildlife habitat on the Chattahooochee-Oconee National Forests. Photo by U.S. Forest Service / Steven Bekkerus.


As the leaves bud out across the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, fire managers are working to complete nearly 11,000 acres of critical prescribed fire treatments. Using carefully planned and controlled prescribed fire during the spring growing season can provide better open habitat results.

“The best grasses and ‘bugging habitat’ needed for young wild turkey occur after prescribed fire is applied during the growing season,” said Jimmy Rickard, Ecologist for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. “These fires are important for maintaining and improving the overall population of wild turkeys on the national forest. The impact of the habitat degradation that would occur in the absence of these carefully controlled fire treatments far exceeds that of any individual nests damaged.”

Fires during growing season are also a naturally occurring part of a healthy habitat. Before western settlement, frequent low intensity fires would have burned across the forests of Georgia during the months from March to October- often during growing season. For several decades, fire managers have been using active forest management, including prescribed fire, to help maintain the open, grassy habitat essential to wild turkey and other species. Across the Oconee National Forest in middle Georgia, bobwhite quail and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker can also be found in the same healthy woodland forest as wild turkey. 

“By returning fire to the forest, we are doing our part to ensure the healthiest forest ecosystem for the plant, animal, and human communities that depend on it,” added Rickard. “Fire is simply a natural part of the forest.”

Lynn Lewis-Weis with the National Wild Turkey Federation agrees. "I always tell folks who want more wildlife, no matter what it is, the key is habitat diversity," said Lewis-Weis. "You have to provide everything an animal needs (food, nesting habitat, escape cover, brood rearing habitat, etc.) all year-round, not just when you want to hunt them. A part of that model is using all the tools in the tool box. Prescribed fire during both dormant and growing seasons is a must when managing lands in the Southeast, and when used wisely, can create the year-round habitat that wildlife, including turkeys, needs to flourish."

She added, "It may seem illogical, but if your favorite turkey hunting spot just got burned, consider yourself lucky! Hurry, go set up there now, even if it’s still smoking."

Kevin Lowrey with the Georgia DNR, who specializes in turkey populations and habitat, advises that the “Growing season burning helps accomplish habitat objectives that burning in the dormant season can’t. Most places that would be burned in the growing season represent marginal or poor turkey nesting and brood rearing habitat. It’s simply too thick. Burning creates conditions desired by many many wildlife species including turkeys."

Lowrey concluded, "While a turkey nest may get destroyed during the burns, that is usually not the case. Generally, the positive changes created by the growing season burn outweigh any potential nest loss." He noted in one case a turkey hen re-nested four times as late is mid-July after egg loss to predators.

Never hunted turkey before? Watch these tips from the Wildlife Resources Division - Georgia DNR.

Learn to hunt with the Georgia DNR: http://georgiawildlife.com/LearntoHuntFish

Where to hunt? Scout locations on key maps: 

Wildlife Management Areas: bit.ly/GeorgiaWMAs

National Forest maps about hunting: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/conf/recreation/hunting

See also recent prescribed fire locations on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest at: bit.ly/CONF_RxFireMap


Learn more from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources - Wildlife Resources Division:


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Lightning Season Burning: Friend or Foe of Breeding Birds

For decades, the prescribed fires needed to maintain suitable habitat conditions for pineland birds were applied early in the calendar year (i.e., before April) when cooler temperatures and steady winds prevailed. More recently, some land managers have shifted to burning areas dominated by native forbs and grasses later in the year (e.g., after April) both to increase the acreage treated with fire each year and also in consideration of ecological observations. The shift to burning later in the year has led to concerns about the effects such burns may have on nesting birds. 

Read the report.

Also see:

"Burning During the Nesting Season: Desirable or Disastrous for Turkey Management?" (The Upland Gazette, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission)

Fire information, maps, and updates 24 hours-a-day: 


Fire management staff for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests discusses a prescribed fire with wild turkey hunters.  Photo by U.S. Forest Service/Steven Bekkerus.

Fire management staff for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests discusses a prescribed fire with wild turkey hunters. 
Photo by U.S. Forest Service/Steven Bekkerus.

More information about prescribed fire: