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Conditions could force shift in refuge landscape burning

Courtesy of USFWS
USFWS and Delaware Forest Service conduct a 40-acre pollinator filed burn at Bombay Hook in December 2017.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is burning grassland at Delaware refuges to get rid of invasive species.

Invasive species like phragmites can take over open fields and pollinator habitat in Bombay Hook and Prime Hook National Wildlife refuges.

Bart Wilson is a project manager with the USFWS Coastal Delaware Refuge Complex. He says fire can be used as a management tool to burn off these pesky grasses, making room for marsh species that are critical habitat for threatened birds.

But he says the burn cycle depends on dry conditions, and this year hasn’t been great so far.


"The late winter seems to be wetter than we normally have had and that’s kind of really shifting how at least at the refuge we’re thinking about this," Wilson said.


He says Fish & Wildlife is hoping for more dry periods soon so they can burn through mid-April, but if flowers start to bloom early, they may have to wait until December.

"We're really pushing to rethink how we schedule these and maybe do them in early winter to allow us to get those drier conditions," Wilson said.

The burning process involves mowing the grass and cutting small trees to create barriers to contain the fire. After they create these fire breaks, they look at what wind direction they want to use to push the smoke into areas where there are no residents or houses.


"You don't want to burn on a day where there's no wind because the fire is not going to really move. You need a little bit of breeze to push it."


Personnel use drift torches to cut off vegetation and burn it until they get a head fire that consumes the area they want to burn.

This year, they plan to burn nearly 400 acres of field in Prime Hook and 500 acres in Bombay Hook.

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