In my tenure as steward at Roundrock (has it been more than seven years?) we have only had one ground fire in the woods (aside from the countless campfires we have had). It happened when my neighbor lost control of his prescribed burn in his meadow. It raced across Good Neighbor Brian’s meadow and entered our woods.
The neighbor called to apologize, and he took responsibility, but the fire hardly mattered. The forest floor needed a good cleaning, and fire is the natural way to do it. Fortunately (or unfortunately) it stopped where we had cut our road through the trees. (The road was new then, so it wasn’t overgrown or littered with fallen branches that might have allowed the fire to cross it and keep going in the forest.) In the end, only a couple of our acres were burned. Thus the rest of the 80+ acres of Roundrock have continued to build up their leaf litter and other combustibles, waiting for the inevitable fire to come.
When we walk our woods, there is plenty of evidence of earlier fires. Many of the snags, those standing and those since fallen to the ground, show burn marks. As this wood has aged, it seems to have hardened. It is tough to saw through, and it seems like it can resist burning much better than more freshly fallen wood in the forest.
It’s hard to guesstimate the ecological history of Roundrock based on the evidence available. The land was once part of a cattle ranch (which the interloping cattle of last week seemed intent on restoring), so much of it was apparently grazed heavily. Then for some reason, my woods was fence off from the rest of the ranch and allowed to grow munch free. I think this was about thirty years ago, given the age of the oldest trees that aren’t obvious patriarchs.
Of course there can be a lot of deadfall in thirty years, but aside from cedars, there hadn’t been a lot of this accumulated at Roundrock (until last winter’s ice storm). Can I conclude from the (former) relative lack of deadfall that fires had come through (comparatively) recently and cleaned it all out?
There are parts of Roundrock where the ground is scoured of leaf litter. Nothing but the usual jumble of sharp rock and moss cover the ground. In other places we have to hike around thickets of woody plants that would likely burn in a fire. It would be interesting to see what kind of paths a fire would take in our woods.
If we did have a ground fire in our woods, I wouldn’t lose much. The tarp is about the only non-natural thing out there. (Well, the comfy chairs, too.) It would be a shame to see the pines, pecans, buttonbush, and nannyberries get devoured given how much time and trouble I have given them, but I understood that risk from the start.
I’ve been told that I can conduct controlled burns in my forest, but that idea scares me. I’ll just let nature do the job.
- Female coyotes wean pups.
Today in Missouri history:
- Don Faurot was born on this date in 1932. Now a legend among Missouri college football fans, he lead the Mizzou Tigers for decades.
- Legislation passed on this date in 1937 created programs for old age assistance, aid to dependent children, general relief, and child welfare.