TULLY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — For the first time in many of their lives, SUNY ESF students had to defy orders from Smokey Bear.
On Thursday, Oct. 5, their professor invited them to intentionally set a forest fire as part of a class project.
More than 30 students of the “Fire and Ecology Management” class traveled to SUNY ESF’s Heiberg Memorial Forest in Tully, where they were taught to execute what’s called a “prescribed burn.”
These intentional burns are considered a tool by the forest management industry, used to reduce fuel for unintended forest fires and revive wildlife negatively impacted by overgrown forests.
Dr. Andy Vander Yacht, the professor of the class, gave NewsChannel 9 examples of wildlife that may find refuge in burned land including the Karner Blue butterfly and the virtually extinct American Chestnut tree.
SUNY ESF is specifically interested in the American Chestnut because another department is working to revive the species.
Dr. Vander Yacht said: “We know a little bit of something about where American Chestnuts occurred on the landscape naturally, and that was in association with frequently burned sites. So we might be able to use fire to make sure we are able establish those new Chestnut seedlings that we have to restore the American Chestnut to the eastern US.”
Planning for the burn started weeks before, Dr. Vander Yacht, writing an industry-standard burn plan that required approval by the State DEC.
The plan includes mapping of the fields to be burned, the group’s objectives, safety protocols, smoke direction projections and more.
Group-by-group, the students got to take turns using a fueled torch to throw flames into the designated area of brush. Beforehand, fire lines were dug as perimeters to stop the fire from spreading outside the designated areas.
Students also learned about monitoring the sides of the burn zone and how to handle fire spreading outside the area.