KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON --While using fire to improve wildlife habitat is nothing new in the Green Mountain National Forest, this season the U.S. Forest Service is putting in more effort to let the public know about the "prescribed fires" it plans to set this spring, weather permitting.
Ethan Ready, public affairs officer for Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest, said the Forest Service hopes to burn 500 acres in the area covering Bennington, Woodford, Arlington, Sunderland, Winhall, Peru, Stratton, Wallingford, Danby, Mt. Tabor, Weston, and Wilmington. These areas are in the Manchester Ranger District and smoke may be visible to the public.
The burns will be conducted by U.S. Forest Service personnel who are trained to fight wildfires and will occur when the snow has melted and the forest is just starting to turn green. Ready said all, some, or none of the proposed burns may occur depending on weather conditions.
The Middlebury/Rochester Ranger District, located in the northern part of Vermont, is scheduled for 300 acres of burning along with 400,000 acres across the country. Ready said fire occurs naturally in the wild and the role it plays in the ecosystem is to clear out old or dead material and make room for young plants to grow. He said many species of wildlife depend on this cycle especially the woodcock, a small game bird.
"There’s a science to it," he said. "It’s been done in the past. What we are trying to do now is outreach and education."
He said local fire departments have been notified of the planned burns, all of which will take place within a two-week window. If they cannot happen safely they will be put off to next year.
Before an area is burned crews will dig small ditches around it then burn the area immediately inside the ditches. After waiting a day they will return and burn the interior using drip torches, he said.
Some public trails may be closed when a burn is going on, said Ready, and the public is asked to steer clear of burn areas while Forest Service personnel are working.
"Our goal here is to let people know our purpose," he said, adding the spots being burned have been identified as being key wildlife habitat where vegetation has become coarse. Once the old growth is burned away it will leave room for animals to eat. Some species need new-growth areas for their mating process.
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