Wildlife Benefits from Pa. Game Commission Controlled Burns

CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – While state forest marshals and volunteer firefighters cautiously keep a lookout for out-of-control debris and brush fires, the Pa. Game Commission has been out setting fires this spring.

It may seem strange to some, but the fact is the Game Commission has been doing controlled burns to improve wildlife habitat for several years.

Thursday and Friday, a 15-man state crew were busy with a number of controlled burns on State Game Lands in Piney and Paint Townships in Clarion County and none resulted in burning anything other than what was intended.

According to Clarion/Jefferson County Land Management Group Supervisor Jesse Bish, a lot of planning and training goes into doing just one controlled burn.

“We start writing the plans for the burns in January and the crews that do the burns have several hours in training before they can even participate in one,” Bish said.

Dan Schmidt, the Land Management Officer for Venango and Mercer counties, also explained some of the program.

“It takes time before someone can work their way up to lead a squad. There is a lot of training, online courses and then actual field time on burns before someone can run one,” Schmidt said.

Crew members duties including setting fires, having the equipment to put the fire out after the burn has done what was necessary, driving the water tank truck and ATVs and those who routinely check the weather conditions to ensure conditions are safe for burning.


The crew included a tanker truck that held about 200 gallons of water and an ATV rigged with a smaller container.

For instance, if the relative humidity reaches 25 percent, burning will not be done. Also, if winds reach a certain threshold, burning won’t be done.

Friday, crews were on State Game Lands 72 in Paint Township, off Route 66 and not far from Route 66 Sporting Goods.

Conditions were very good for the burns that were completed in the morning. The humidity was at 31 percent and winds were less than 5 miles per hour and mostly at just 1 mph.

The crew did wait about an hour before the winds decreased to the point where conditions were safe to begin burning.

Rob Hall, a habitat worker with the Game Commission, was the “Burn Boss” and he gave instructions on what was being done and what each member of the crew was responsible for. Safety was stressed as well as the responsibilities of each crew member.

Burn Boss Rob Hall

Before each burn, Hall did a small test burn to see if the fire was going to be safe to continue with the larger burn.

The crews did three burns, two on warm season grasses and one on a patch of sorghum.

Bish explained that burns can be done for many different reasons.

“We might burn to thin out an area of wildlife cover because it has actually become too dense for animals to use it. But we may burn an area to create regeneration where the cover needs to be thicker,” Bish said.

Warm season grasses are a mixture of a variety of grasses where animals can hide from predators, nest and feed.

Sorghum is a fast-growing plant and provides seed for upland game birds such as pheasants and wild turkeys. The plant reaches mid-bloom in 40 to 50 days and when it matures, the seeds become edible and more tasty to wildlife during the fall as it loses tannic acid.

White-tailed deer will also feed heavily on sorghum grain in the fall and winter.

Controlled burns have been done across the state and are becoming an important tool to manage and improve wildlife habitat.

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