The best thing for more than half of Pennsylvania’s stage game lands might be to set fire to them.
Ben Jones, habitat division chief for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said controlled burns can be used to create herbaceous openings – like fields and meadows – in a more efficient way than mowing and herbicides. They’re also critical to perpetuating oak regeneration, as well as specific habitat types, like barrens and scrub oak-pitch pine forests.
Fire, he added, can create four to five times as much deer browse on ridges as might otherwise exist.
“Here’s an obvious way to improve whitetail habitat,” Jones said.
About 800,000 of the commission’s 1.5 million acres of game lands, more than 50 percent of the total, are candidates for treatment by fire, he added. That represents a “tremendous opportunity,” he said.
The commission has been burning more as of late, and hope s to do even more, he said. It’s set fire to 16,634 acres since 2009, with just shy of 6,000 of those acres burnt this year alone. The goal is to get to almost 7,000 acres by November.
Commission president Dave Putnam of Centre County credited Jones and the commission’s other employees with learning to use fire effectively. Not everyone can or even wants to, he said, noting “there aren’t many agencies that want to go out and strike that match.”
But it’s working, he added.
“The ones I’ve looked at, the impact is just tremendous,” Putnam said.
Commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County, a professional fireman by trade, agreed.
“Most people go to jail for lighting fires,” he said.
But the commission has an excellent safety record, he added.