Controlled burns planned for wildlife refuge

February 9, 2011 at 1:53 am

Wildlife officials have controlled burns planned for almost 60,000 acres of marsh in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge this month.

The refuge, established in 1937, includes more than 124,000 acres of marshland.

A burn is a common tool used to get rid of dead vegetation that fuels wildfires and slows germination and growth of new plants, said refuge official Diane Borden-Billiot.

“So when we get lightning storms, the fire is less likely to spread and get out of control,” she said, adding that, “with the fresh growth, the wildlife that grazes come out and their predators follow.”

She said the burns also help control invasive species, such as the Chinese tallow tree.

There is no set time for the burns, which will be in five areas.

“Each area burn will be different. It mainly depends on what the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agents need to protect,” Bordon-Billiot said.

Weather conditions dictate when they are held.

The presence of northerly winds is a plus, Bordon-Billiot said. Such winds are expected Thursday or Friday.

“We don’t want to smoke out the closest community, which is Johnson Bayou. So we want to make sure that smoke goes out over the Gulf,” she said.

The largest burn will be in Unit 3 in the north-central part of the refuge. Its smoke column should be visible from La. 27, Bordon-Billiot said.

She said controlled burns in some parts of the refuge have not taken place since before Hurricane Rita struck in 2005. “Our goal is to do each unit on a three-year rotation, but sometimes budgetary and administrative constraints get in the way,” Bordon-Billiot said.

The burns will require up to 10 people to be on duty. Included will be helicopter pilots and personnel to operate other equipment, such as a fire engine and outboard boats.

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