(WSIL) — If you live near the Shawnee National Forest, you likely see smoke rising from controlled burns each spring and fall.
But for the past three years, the Forest Service has experimented with a growing season burn; one that takes place while the vegetation is still green.
Crews from the Shawnee National Forest service were out in Johnson County Thursday, near New Burnside, conducting a controlled burn.
Fuels Specialist Tyson Taylor says the burns have offered several advantages and do a better job of eliminating the woody encroachment in the open fields.
"We still have five or six growing-season burns that we want to complete in the next week, or two weeks," said Taylor. "So if we get a decent break in relative humidity, down in that 40-50-percent range, then we’ll try to burn on any day we have a decent wind."
Teams from the Shawnee Forest burned 50 acres Thursday and will burn another 50 in the same area Friday. More burns are scheduled for the week of September 9 in Johnson, Pope, and Hardin counties.
Taylor says preserving the open space provides habitats for smaller animals. He says an added bonus to the low-intensity burn is that it requires fewer people.
"So if we were going to do this burn in November or March, when the grass was dormant, we’d have to have more people out here than what we have today," said Taylor. "But with the low-intensity fire, and the slow spread, we can handle it with the ten people we have."
Firefighter Nathan Speagle says that it’s actually fun conducting burns and rewarding to see the results over time.
"Once you get a few years into it, you can really see the changes you made on the landscape and with a lot of the places across the Shawnee National Forest and some of the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) lands," said Speagle. "We’re going to be able to come back decades later and see our impact on the land, and how we’ve been a part of taking care of that, and making a change for the better."