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Controlled Burns: What You Need to Know

Prescribed fire, also known as a controlled burn, has been documented through research to provide the most cost-efficient means to provide both total forage and total protein to wildlife. It also improves the total aesthetic look, which helps your property value and marketability. Denson Helms, a real estate appraiser with First South Farm Credit, explains how the recreational value of a property affects the overall value. 

“The recreational value takes into consideration the overall utility and appeal of the property,” he notes. “Burning enhances the overall view and utility of a property. While increasing a timber stand’s health and productivity, burning also opens up the landscape for hunting and overall recreational enjoyment.” 

Not convinced? Keep in mind, First South will lend you money for land improvements such as installing firebreaks, prescribed fires, and thinning timber stands. If a lender is willing to do that, it’s safe to assume the math has been done on whether a management practice will help add value to a property.

“Markets and landscapes are different, but overall I would say that a property that has been burned would sell faster and potentially at a higher value than a property that has been left idle,” Denson says. “With that being said, a property’s burn application should be set up in a way that it still can support the local wildlife. With sectional burning each year, ample green browse and wildlife cover will be available for wildlife. As we all know, wildlife is a desirable asset on a rural property.”

Prescribed Fire Planning 

So, if you’re a landowner or even a leaseholder (yes, leaseholder’s do have the ability to burn in some cases), prescribed burns are a great way to enhance your property’s recreational and commercial value. 

But you don’t need to take it from us. Ted is a partner in Bach and Devos Wildlife Services, and he and his partner burn more than 13,000 acres annually. 

“Even after 20 years of doing it intensively, and 40 years of doing it, I still get butterflies in my stomach,” says Ted. “You know the risk is there, I get a little nervous until the fires have been burning for a little while and you know what you’re up against. There’re always variable conditions that you’re not expecting. And that’s kind of the fun of it. But it’s also the scary part of it. And when you’ve done it a long time, you start seeing those places where you’re gonna have problems.” 

Having a solid plan in place before you start your burn is critical. You need to anticipate where problems may occur, where firebreaks need to be, and how you’re going to handle potential problems. 

Learn From the Experts 

Conducting controlled burns on your property is not something you want to learn as you go. You want professionals conducting these burns on your property if you don’t have experience. But you have a few options when it comes to getting help. 

The first option is to talk to Certified Forester in your area. They will likely conduct the prescribed burn themselves or have a trusted team that he contracts with. You’ll want to make sure that your forester is certified for controlled burns. 

You can also check with your state’s certified prescribed burn manager training program and get your own certification. It’s typically administered through your state’s forestry commission. You’ll learn everything you need from insurance coverage, safety planning, fire behavior, state fire laws, etc. 

The last option is to seek out a local prescribed burn association in your area. These groups are usually neighbors helping neighbors conduct the burns on their property, provide public awareness and pooling resources to be more cost efficient in their prescribed burns. 

Costs Involved 

“If you’re working with contractors like us that charge to burn somebody’s place, that cost will vary depending on where you’re at. It might be $15 to $25 an acre for understory burning,” says Ted Devos. “I know that’s a big window. But it depends on who you’re contracting with. If you’re in South Alabama, it’s going to be different than if you’re in North Alabama.” 

Although burning arguably pays for itself in terms of pest and disease resistance in your timber and by reducing competition from deeper rooted competitive vegetation, it is not free from a cash flow perspective. Government Cost Share For Prescribed Fire First, contact your state’s forestry commission and local USDA office to determine if you are eligible for their cost share programs. One example is Alabama’s Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Cost-Share Program. Federal cost share is available through your local USDA NRCS office. There are many government programs that offer landowner assistance for a wide variety of conservation activities. Your tax dollars help fund these programs so apply for them and take advantage of them where you can. 

Land Improvement Loans 

In addition to a $15-$25 per acre burn cost, firebreaks can be a significant expense, depending on the property. Putting heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators on your property may require additional capital that you don’t have access to until your next timber harvest. And while you may have that equipment on the property, you probably have a laundry list of other land clearing projects like clearing food plots or road maintenance you might like that operator to knock out while he’s there. All of those projects could run up to $2,000 +/- in land clearing costs per acre. If this is outside your reach, First South Farm Credit offers land improvement loans to help you manage your property to its fullest potential. 

Final Thoughts On Prescribed Fires 

Prescribed burning has been around for a long time. The native wildlife and plant communities on your property will absolutely benefit from prescribed burns. And so will your commercial timber value. No matter how small your property may be there are ways to cost share. Talk to a certified forester in your area to learn more about these practices.

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