How does fire impact ticks?

Ticks, chiggers, horn flies, and other external parasites can be reduced with fire. However, studies have shown parasite reductions are generally short-lived with parasites typically returning to pre-burn levels within a couple of seasons.

 

Relevant literature:

Cully, J. 1999. Lone star tick abundance, fire, and bison grazing in tallgrass prairie. Journal of Range Management 52:139–144.

Drew, M., W. Samuel, G. Lukiwski, and J. Willman. 1985. Evaluation of burning for control of winter ticks (Dermancentor albicuptus) in central Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 21: 313–315.

Swengal, A. 2001. A literature review of insect responses to fire compared to other conservation managements of open habitat. Biodiversity and Conservation 10:1141–1169.

Dwayne Elmore – Oklahoma State University

Dwayne Elmore is the Wildlife Extension Specialist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Oklahoma State University (http://nrem.okstate.edu/). He has both Extension and research responsibilities.  Specific areas of interest include wildlife habitat relationships, the role of disturbance to maintain sustainable ecosystems, and social constraints to conservation.  

Contact Information:

phone: 405-744-9636

email: dwayne.elmore@okstate.edu

How wide should a firebreak or fireguard be?

There is no set standard, but it should be wide enough for the fuels along the boundary of the burn unit. Typically a bareground line 4 to 10 feet wide is sufficient, but narrow cow trails and even mowed lines can be safely used. The width of the firebreak can be offset by reducing the amount of fuel right next to the edge of the burn unit by mowing or shredding to diminish flame heights and fire intensity.

How does fire impact grazing?

Recently burned areas attract grazing animals because of increased forage quality and palatability. Recently burned areas also have fewer external parasites such as flies and ticks which influence habitat use. Grazing animals follow fires; thus, fire can be used to rotate animals across the landscape. However, animals tend to concentrate on these areas until a more recent burned area is available; thus, when a manager wishes to move livestock, fire is a good tool to achieve this.

Historically, was fire important?

Yes. Fire shaped the plant and animal communities that we see presently on the landscape. The important factor is scale, both temporal (time) and spatial (size). Managers should attempt to mimic historic scale of fire to meet the needs of all native species. Even in areas that require very infrequent fire (e.g., 200 years) fire is still important to these systems.

Does fire increase the risk of invasive plants?

It potentially can. A good example of this is cheat grass in the intermountain basin. Native plants evolved with fire on the landscape. However, when nonnative plants are present on the landscape, attention must be given to their response to fire, which can complicate land management. This emphasized the point of not introducing nonnative plants. Fire can also be a good tool to control invasive plants as well.

How do I burn a brush pile?

Brush piles are problematic and can cause many wildfires. This is because they often burn for long periods of time, during which extreme conditions may develop.
Remember that embers can travel great distances from brush piles and create spot fires. The best time to burn a brush pile is when vegetation is actively growing and thus has a high moisture content. Under these conditions, spot fires are less likely to occur. If this is not possible, then fuel needs to be eliminated around the brush pile through mowing, grazing, prescribed fire, etc.

What is a fire regime?

Fire regime is a term used to characterize the frequency, extent, intensity, severity and seasonality of fires within an ecosystem over an extended period of time.  For example, historically, ponderosa pine forests in the Southwest were generally characterized by a high frequency (2-12 years), low intensity, and low severity spring & summer fire regime.

Should I defer grazing after a fire?

The decision to rest or graze a pasture following fire is not necessarily a trivial question. There are numerous variables and potential interactions to consider (e.g., condition of resources following fire, and potential weather in the months ahead). Generally speaking, plant communities that are adapted to fire are also adapted to grazing following a fire. However, timing, intensity, distribution, and duration of grazing as well as the type of livestock must be considered and adjusted accordingly to meet management objectives. If reseeding is necessary following fire, some deferment may be appropriate until the new plants are established. In some cases, deferment may be necessary to allow woody plants to become established and grow beyond the reach of herbivores.

For information regarding prescribed burning and grazing in the Great Plains see Patch Burning: Integrating Fire and Grazing to Promote Heterogeneity. For information regarding grazing following wildfire in the Great Plains see Management after Wildfire.

How does fire impact wildlife?

Fire can be both positive and negative for wildlife. Wildlife evolved in plant communities that had fire. Man has changed the fire regime which has had negative impacts on many species. Some species require frequent fires while others require less frequent fires. Thus, the impacts on species of plants and animals are highly variable and to determine the impacts on a particular place you need a good understanding of individual species responses.
There are some general notes to consider regarding wildlife: 1) Fire temporarily increases the palatability of many plants which increases forage for herbivores. 2) Fire temporarily increases the amount of annual forbs which many birds require. 3) Fire temporarily reduces the amount of cover for nesting and escape.
How long these conditions last depends on the productivity of the site. It could be as little as 3 years or as many as 200 years. Fire is critical for wildlife biodiversity. The key is selecting the appropriate scale (time interval between fires and size of fire) to match the wildlife species of interest.