Prescribed burn helping wildlife at refuge

Prescribed burn helping wildlife at refuge

WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE, Okla. (TNN) - Smoke will be visible over the next few days over the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is part of a prescribed burn targeting areas like Big Four and Black Bear Mountains.

This prescribed burn will cover 4,300 acres. The last time this area of the refuge had a prescribed burn was back in 2016.

Fire management officials said the burn is to restore and revitalize the land, to control invasive plants, and to help different animals have a healthy habitat, allowing them to continue their species.

“Some of the key species would be the black-capped vireo," said Jon King, fire management officer. "It used to be on the endangered list. It is no longer, but we still try to manage for its habitat and it likes to nest in some of the younger oak saplings, say about two to six feet in height. So, if we can put a fire through there, we can keep those oaks at that shorter level that they like to nest in.”

During the prescribed burn, wildlife officials are planning out the fire strategically to ensure the different wildlife all have a way to find safety in other locations. This strategy also is a way to lower the risk for unplanned fires.

“Part of what this does is we will burn under these controlled conditions to prevent the uncontrolled wildfires from happening that could affect both the refuge here or go off the refuge and impact other communities and people,” said King.

Several wildlife and fire officials from other states were called in to assist with this prescribed fire. They have broken up into groups to work on different areas of the refuge to ensure this burn is done safely. They are also working with a private land owner on the refuge.

“We could do the fire on our property, alone, the refuge property, but it would be easier and it would also enhance some of the wildlife habitat on the private land," said Duane Lucia, private lands biologist. "So, we’ve incorporated part of his property along with the refuge property.”

Lucia said he hopes this type of relationship can continue with others.

“It’s our hope that as we continue with our habitat management improvements, we’ll start working with all the other adjacent land owners to the refuge, because the bigger footprint we can make, the better,” said Lucia.

Wildlife officials ask those visiting the refuge during the burn to be mindful of the areas they are working and not enter restricted areas. The eastern part of the refuge, like near Mt. Scott, will be open as usual. You can visit the visitors center to locate which specific areas and roads are closed during this time.

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