Using Prescribed Fire to Control Ticks

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed Fire

Troublesome pests such as ticks can be controlled with fire. However, for most parasites, control by fire lasts only for one growing season post-burn.

Economic Loss

Many tourism areas suffer economic loss because of the public’s perception of ticks and other pests in parks, campgrounds, and other recreational facilities. Ticks pose a serious health risk to humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife because of the diseases they can carry. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme’s disease, and other infections can be transmitted to humans from ticks. Domestic animals can also contract fatal diseases from ticks. Decreased livestock production from insect borne illnesses can also cost livestock producers thousands of dollars each year.

Controlling Ticks With Patch-Burning

Current research suggests patch-burning (patch-burn grazing) significantly reduces ticks on domestic livestock. When a patch is burned, the livestock follow the fresh burned areas and camp out on those areas until another patch is burned. Burning the patch kills the ticks, removes their habitat, and limits the livestock’s contact with ticks because they are concentrated on the burned area. Since the livestock follow the burns, they remain in areas with fewer ticks.

Using Prescribed Fire in Loblolly Pine Stands

An even aged loblolly pine stand that is managed with periodic fire. Note the absence of a hardwood midstory due to the frequent fire.


Loblolly pine is widely distributed across the southeastern U.S. and is an important commercial tree species. It also provides a host of other values including wildlife habitat, aesthetic value, and erosion control. Prescribed fire is an important practice in managing loblolly pine stands. However, care must be taken to minimize tree damage by setting the appropriate fire prescriptions.

Minimizing mortality

In general, loblolly less than 5 years in age will be damaged by prescribed fire. Therefore, if commercial timber production is a goal, prescribed fire should be withheld until trees are well established. Trees that are at least 3 – 4 inches ground diameter or about 15 feet in total height are generally not damaged by low-intensity fire. Consider using a backfire and burning during the dormant season when ambient temperature is less than 60 degrees F. Good atmospheric lift and moderate wind speeds (>10-15 mph) also favor dissipation of heat from the canopy. Even larger pines can be damaged by crown scorch if atmospheric conditions do not favor lift. Generally, crown scorch of less than 50% will cause minimal mortality but may impact growth rates for a couple of years.

Litter moisture is also important. If the duff layer is consumed, root damage is likely to occur, which can lead to tree mortality. Additional care should be taken to remove large woody debris from the base of trees to ensure the cambium layer is not damaged by the residual heat from these long-burning heavy fuels.

Hardwood control

Hardwood species compete heavily with young pines and can limit growth of pines. Herbicide applications, such as Arsenal AC (24 oz/ac) or Chopper (32 oz/ac), are often used to minimize hardwood competition. Once the pines are large enough, prescribed fire every 2-5 years will limit hardwood competition and encourage herbaceous groundcover.


This diverse herbaceous understory resulted following a dormant season fire in this young pine stand.


Livestock grazing is very compatible in open pine woodlands and savannahs that have adequate grass forage. Total biomass of grass forage will increase as basal area of pine decreases. Therefore, landowners must consider the appropriate balance between timber production and livestock production, which may vary depending on current commodity prices and other landowner objectives. Regardless, prescribed fire should be used in these agroforestry systems to limit hardwood encroachment and increase the palatability of the grass forage for livestock. Additionally, by burning portions of the pine stand, livestock can be rotated without fencing (patch-burning) as they will quickly move to the recent burns to forage on the grass regrowth. This is beneficial as it will allow grass fuel to accumulate on the unburned (and ungrazed areas) and will minimize fencing needs, which will make tree harvest easier. If hardwood encroachment becomes problematic, growing-season fire (August-September) or headfires during the dormant season can be used to better control hardwoods, assuming the pine stand is of sufficient age to survive increased fire intensity. Livestock stocking rates should be low to moderate for young pine (<5 yr of age) to minimize pine mortality. 

Wildlife management

Many species of wildlife may use loblolly pine stands, especially those with open canopies managed with prescribed fire. White-tailed deer, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite are focal species for most landowners. Prescribed fire can be used to manage vegetation composition and structure for these species. Generally, a fire frequency of 3-7 years, 2-5 years, and 1-3 years for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite, respectively, is appropriate in loblolly stands.

What is Patch Burning?

What is Patch Burning?

Patch burning (patch-burn grazing) involves the combined use of fire and grazing for ecological or agricultural goals within landscapes or pastures.  The target area or pasture is subdivided using only needed burn lines (no cross fencing).  Each year fire is used to burn a different portion of the pasture.  Livestock can be added to the area at anytime.  The grazers will be attracted to the burned area and spend most of their grazing time in that portion of the pasture.  As fire moves around the pasture or landscape, grazing pressure will also change in synchrony.  The focal area or patch will incurr heavy grazing creating a grazing lawn type structure.  As grazing pressure is released, the plant community recovers and a shift mosaic is created. 

Patch burning allows livestock to freely select the most recently burned part of a pasture. It has been found that livestock spend 75% of their time on these burned patches and, typically, evenly utilize all the palatable plants within the entire burned patch. This includes plants that are normally not considered desirable livestock forage. Then within 6-12 months another portion of the pasture can be burned. This will shift the focal grazing point to the new burn patch. After the heavy utilization (1 to 4 years post-burn depending on the chosen rotation) a transition state of bare ground, forbs, and small amounts of standing biomass and litter occurs. Within a couple of years post-burn, the patch receives very little grazing pressure which allows biomass and litter to accumulate (Figure 3). This rested patch is then ready to be burned and grazed again. This is all accomplished without fences. The total amount of hands on management is much less with this system than many other common grazing systems.  For more information about patch burning go to the following link 

Patch burning (patch-burn grazing) is the purposeful grazing of a section of an landscape or management unit that has been prescribed burned, and then rotating fire through the managment unit to move the grazing pressure over time. This creates a shifting mosaic on the landscape or management unit.



Cattle spend 75% of the time grazing on the most recently burned patches. This allows the other patches to recover.


Are fire and grazing interrelated?

Yes, grazing animals preferentially forage on recently burned areas due to the increased palatability of new and re-sprouting vegetation. As a result, fine fuel loads at these sites are reduced, subsequently lowering their near-term burn potential. Conversely and simultaneously, fine fuels on adjacent unburned areas buildup in the absence of concentrated grazing resulting in an increased burn potential over time. The result is an ever-changing mosaic of burned and unburned patches across the landscape driven by the interaction between fire and grazing.