The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to conduct a controlled burn at the National Conservation Training Center between the end of February and mid-April, depending on suitable weather conditions. The Center is located at 698 Conservation Way, off of Shepherd Grade Road, north of Shepherdstown. Two fields of tall grass, representing a total area of approximately 22 acres in size, are to be burned by experienced firefighters from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. The objective of this fire, known as a prescribed burn, is to remove invading trees and shrubs that would otherwise overtake the fields, help control non-native plants and promote the growth of native warm-season prairie grasses that provide important wildlife habitat. The operation will only take place under favorable weather conditions to keep the fire manageable and minimize smoke. Because such burning is weather-dependent, the exact date for this activity won't be known until shortly before it is carried out, or it may be postponed.
Local residents and visitors may smell or see smoke in the area for a brief period of time, according to Phil Pannill, Land Manager for the National Training Conservation Center.
"Grass fires such as this usually burn quickly and then go out," Pannill said. "Fire breaks have been created to make sure the fire is contained and wildland firefighting equipment will be on hand. All needed permits and approvals are being obtained."
Prescribed burning has been found to be the most effective way to maintain and promote native prairie grasses, which include switchgrass, little bluestem, Indiangrass and big bluestem. These grasses, which used to be common in the Eastern Panhandle, thrive on fire, according to Pannill. They provide ideal habitat for nesting birds and small mammals which can go under and between the clumps of grass to find food and seek protection from predators and the elements.
The upcoming prescribed fire will be NCTC's third controlled burn since the beginning of this highly successful program in 2011.
"We have already seen positive impacts from previous burns, resulting in improved habitat for wildlife. We anticipate this year's burn will further our restoration goals," said Pannill.
The National Conservation Training Center is the home of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a leader in environmental sustainability. The center provides exemplary training tailored to support Service employees and conservation partners in the accomplishment of the agency's mission. For more information about NCTC or our green practices, visit nctc.fws.gov.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.