When you mow your lawn, you are keeping your property in a grass-herbaceous state. When you stop mowing, your yard continues the process of recolonizing woody plants. Forestlands are the same. We humans take actions to manipulate the vegetative structure on the land and call it forest management.
In the past, our forests were subject to one or more agents of management that are, for the most part, absent in today’s forest. Fire, bison, and elk with Indians were followed by fire and cattle with European settlers. Forests regenerated by happenstance competing with vegetation had at least some level of control provided by burning and grazing. The closing of the open range mid-century brought fences for the cattle and government-sponsored fire control. Planting of forest trees for economic gain began, and fire was given a bad rap by Smokey Bear.
Today we keep fire out of our forests to protect young trees and infrastructure, and woodland grazing is becoming a dim memory. When wildfires occur, the massive buildup of woodland fuels results in catastrophic, unnatural fire damage. Plus, the toll on our desirable trees from intense competition for water and nutrients is an unseen enemy robbing landowners of the economic growth of their asset.
Prescribed burning is a time-proven tool that provides control of undesirable species to protect timber assets from severe wildfire and growth-stealing competition while promoting a wide array of fire-dependent plants and improving wildlife habitat.
The need is the same as mowing the yard, it must be repeated in order to bring about meaningful benefits. Generally, a three-year burning cycle is sufficient to realize those wide-ranging benefits.
And, like cutting your lawn, the woods look better when your management program includes a prescribed burn program enhancing forest benefits such as recreational enjoyment.