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Staying Safe While Hunting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting safety is always a top priority regardless of game, ammo or method.  In Alabama, bow season is open now and gun season opens in mid-November for deer.

Marisa Lee Futral, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hunter education coordinator, says follow key guidelines for a safe hunting experience.

Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

  1. Treat every firearm with the same respect as a loaded firearm.  If you become careless with unloaded guns, you will soon become careless with loaded guns.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Identify your target and what is behind it before you shoot.  Never shoot at movement.  Make sure you know what is behind your target before you shoot.
  4. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions. Only have ammunition of the proper size for the firearm you are carrying.
  5. Unload firearms when not in use.  Leave the action open.  Firearms should be carried unloaded and in a case to and from the shooting or hunting area.
  6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy.
  7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.  Always unload the firearm before you cross a ditch, and never pull a firearm towards you by the muzzle.  Never lean a firearm against a tree, fence, wall or automobile.
  8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or at water.  Bullets can ricochet at odd angles.
  9. Store firearms and ammunition separately. Keep them beyond the reach of children and inexperienced adults.
  10. Never mix gunpowder with alcohol or drugs.  No one should drink alcoholic beverages or take drugs while hunting. Never go hunting with anyone that does.

Main Causes of Accidents while Hunting

Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension regional forestry and wildlife agent identified the three main causes of accidents while hunting.

  • Tree stand accidents
  • Failing to properly identify a target
  • Self-inflicted accidents

“When using tree stands, hunters should wear a harness,” said Carter. They should also use something to pull up their bow or gun, such as a rope.” Alabama regulations now require all hunters utilizing a treestand on wildlife management areas to wear a full body harness.

Another tip for hunter safety is properly identifying yourself.

“Wearing blaze orange identifies that you are a hunter,” he said. “This is the most effective way to identify yourself to other hunters.”

Alabama hunting laws require deer hunters personsto wear an outer garment above the waist with a minimum of 144 square inches of hunter orange or either a full-size hunter orange hat or cap. Hunters are not required to wear hunter orange when hunting from a stand ­elevated 12 feet or more from the ground, when hunting in an enclosed box stand, when ­traveling in an enclosed vehicle, or when traveling on foot no more than 20 feet ­directly between an operating enclosed vehicle and a stand where the hunter is exempt from the hunter orange requirement.

A small logo and/or printing is permitted on the front of hunter orange caps; otherwise, hunter orange must be of solid color and visible from any angle. Only hunter orange, commonly called blaze orange, is legal.

To prevent injuries, hunters should always put safety first. Following these guidelines will ensure a safe and successful hunting season.

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

 

Garden Talk: Plinking on the Roof By: Andrew J. Baril

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It began again this past weekend.  Like clockwork, in the middle of the night, before the rays of sunlight early Saturday morning, I heard a plunk on our roof.  This is a sound I know well.  My wife and I have been living in our little mountain cabin for over ten years now.  I’ve heard this sound before.  For the months of October and November, I will be hearing the plinking of oak acorns and hickory nuts on our metal roof.

Here at our Talladega cabin we have a host of oak trees.  We have black, blackjack, cherrybark, chestnut (mountain), northern red, post, southern red, water, white, and willow oaks.  We also have mockernut, pignut, and shagbark hickories along with a whole host of additional hardwoods.  According to one of Extension’s publications; “Management of Hardwood Forests for Timber in Alabama”, we have around 200 different hardwood species in Alabama, including 25 oaks and 8 hickories.  Because Southern Pines so dominate our timber industries, many people tend to overlook hardwoods.  However, based on US Forest Service inventory research, hardwoods comprise the majority of Alabama’s standing timber volume.

Most of our forest wildlife friends value these hardwoods for food and shelter.  Most of the food value is found in the leaves and seeds.  Leaves are eaten mainly by insects that in turn are eaten by other creatures.  The seeds are eaten by both small and large alike.  How many times have we walked through the woods, picked up seemingly good acorns, only to later find a caterpillar in them?  Yes, insects feed on the seeds too!  Most often when we in Alabama think of acorns and nuts, we think of deer, turkey, and squirrels.  Squirrels need large trees to survive.  Squirrels live off seed sources from hickories, oaks, and pines.  Deer and turkey are different.  They require a variety of habitats.  They like both field and forest.  During the fall, acorns and nuts provide the needed fat in their diets to help see them through the lean days of winter.  Humans can also consume acorns, but they are not as tasty as your cultivated pecans.  The meat inside the shell contains higher levels of tannic acid than what we are accustomed.  Indians used to collect acorns from white and chestnut oaks along with American chestnuts, black walnut, and wild pecan as a food source for the long winter months. As a side note; within the white oak family (oaks that produce white lumber) the acorns mature in one year, while those in the red oak family (pink lumber) take two years to produce mature acorns.  Also, white oak family acorns tend to be larger than the red oak acorns.

Fall is my favorite season of the year.  Cool Canadian air, leaves a changing on the hillsides, and college football, for me, it all began this weekend with a single plink on my roof.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

Black Bears in Alabama: What to do in an encounter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black bears populate the Southeast, and Alabama is no exception. Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife scientist and professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, sheds light on the current black bear population and what to do if you encounter one.

“Black bears have always been native to the southeast. They have always been in this area, but the population is in decline obviously due to habitat loss and persecution.”

“Until recently, one of the last strongholds of black bears was in Mobile. At that time we estimated there were about 50 bears in that area,” Armstrong said.

According to Armstrong, the Mobile population of black bears was imperiled because of the city’s development and urbanization. However, they stayed there because the Mobile Tensaw River Delta provided refuge, and eventually they would scatter to the outskirts of the city.

Current black bear population in Alabama

“You might hear estimates ranging from 300 to 1,000. I think 300 might be a little high for resident bears,” said Armstrong.

“We have transient bears that come through the state, and those are the bears people often see. A lot of them are young males dispersing from being pushed out of their home. They can cover a tremendously, large area.”

Georgia has a fairly large bear population, particularly in the North Georgia mountains.

“The bears that we have in north Alabama and even central Alabama are primarily coming in from Georgia. As their population expands outward, we get the bears coming in. Of course, some of those bears coming through may end up staying,” Armstrong added.

Armstrong said a mama bear and her two cubs were recently caught on a game camera. “That’s positive proof of reproduction taking place in Alabama.”

Things that attract black bears to your property

  • Trash cans
  • Dog food left out overnight
  • Deer feeders

“Everybody in Alabama doesn’t need to put out a bear proof trash can, but if you start having bear activity in the area it is something you should be proactive about. It’s much easier to not let the habit form. If the bear gets used to coming on your property and feeding, then you have to break the habit,” Armstrong said.

What to do if you encounter a black bear

In any bear encounter, Armstrong suggests retreating slowly as the best method of preventing conflict with a bear.

“Don’t approach them or try to attract them,” Armstrong said. “There is something about making eye contact with animals that makes them feel threatened. Back away and don’t run because running brings on chasing. When you encounter a black bear, stand up as tall as you can and make yourself look big.”

Armstrong added, “Don’t corner them. Give them a way to get away because they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them. They don’t want to get into a confrontation, but they will if they have to and they will win.”

When asked about an encounter with a mama bear and her cubs, Armstrong said, “definitely don’t get between a mama bear and her cubs. The maternal instinct is strong and she will defend her cubs. Remove yourself from their proximity.”

 

If you see a bear in your area and are concerned, call the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Alabama Black Bear Alliance.

 

Featured image by NaturesMomentsuk/Shutterstock.com

Bear crossing road image by Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Mama bear and cub by Hal Brindley/Shutterstock.com

 

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Danger Follows the Buzz of Summer By: Andrew J. Baril

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every summer here in Alabama, there is an eerie buzz in the woods.  Those living close to water are used to the regular serenade of croaking frogs.  Their croaking usually begins just before sundown and continues until its crescendo around the crowing of the early morning, 3:00 am rooster.  This croaking however is not the buzz I am hearing.  The eerie buzz occurs in both hardwood and pine forests.  It sounds off in both the city and the country.  It happens close to water and in the driest ecosystems.  The buzz I am thinking about is the mating call of the Periodical and Annual Cicadas.

Periodical cicadas are broken into two groups based on its 17- or 13-year periodic appearances.  Seventeen-year cicada tend to live up North while the 13-year cicada lives in the South.  Most of the cicadas in Alabama belong to what scientists call ‘Brood XIX’.  This brood last appeared in 2011, and should return in 2024.  One thing I find interesting about these cicadas is that all of the adults come out of the ground around May 1, and they are gone by the beginning of June.  Adults appear only to reproduce.  At this time, the cicada crawls out of the soil up a tree or other structure, then it sheds it exoskeleton and emerges with wings.  Once the wings are dry, the male cicada begins to sing to attract a female.  After breeding, the female lays her eggs on a small branch of a hardwood tree.  Adult cicadas die shortly after mating, but the eggs remain.  In six weeks, nymphs hatch and fall to the ground, and begin their life in the soil.

Annual cicadas are what we typically call ‘dog-day’ cicadas.  There are several species of these insects, and they take two to five years to complete their life cycle.  However, the annual cicadas overlap their cycles, so every summer we hear adult cicadas singing in Alabama.  This all male choir began their song a few weeks back and should continue through mid-September.  They complete/begin their life cycles just like the periodical cicadas.  Therefore, every summer we have cicadas, but some summers we have more.

In my title, I said there is a danger following the buzz of summer.  Here is the danger: copperhead snakes.  Any time God gives us a bounty, he expects us to either collect the harvest or he sends another collecting – nothing is wasted.  Salmon runs in Alaska attracts brown bears.  Cicada runs in Alabama attracts copperheads.  I have not seen this yet this summer at my cabin in the Talladega woods, but my friends on the Bankhead have shared this on Facebook: ‘a picture of a copperhead sitting at the base of a white oak waiting for a newly emerging cicada to climb up their tree’.  It is a feast fit for a king.  If you are lucky, and wearing a headlamp, you might even get to witness a king snake catching, killing, and eating a copperhead.  Nights in the forest can be exhilarating.  By morning, the snakes have all but retreated to the cool safety of the den to sleep off their nightly meal.  Be warned!  As long as the buzz continues, the snakes will come out to feast each evening.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

 

Garden Talk: Nighttime Howlers By Andrew J. Baril

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer is on its way in Alabama.  Those of us who live in central Alabama have the typical hazy, hot, humid days of summer headed our way.  Soon the ‘dog days of summer’ will be upon us.  Thinking of dogs and having Buster sitting here with me on my front porch prompted this article.  Each night I hear coyotes howling in the night.  Coyotes are nothing new for us here in the Talladega Mountains, but for my urbanite friends in Birmingham, they can be quite a scare.

Let’s look at coyotes.

Coyotes mate in February/March and pups are born April/May.  Pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent upon milk for the first few weeks.  The family unit or pack consists of the Alpha male and female, this year’s pups, and possibly last year’s pups if they have not bred.  During the fall/winter the adults chase off the pups to establish new territory and find a mate.  In prime habitat (farm/forest cover), coyotes can live in high densities up to 15 per square mile (640 acres), and they normally live less than three years.According to Dr. Mark Smith, Extension Specialist, at Auburn, coyotes (Canis latrans) are everywhere in the state. Yes, as a Regional Extension Agent, I have responded to coyote questions throughout my region, including Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Hoover.  With the extirpation of the red wolf and mountain lion from Alabama, coyotes have moved in, and in the last fifty years, they have become the largest carnivore in the state.  They range in size from 20 – 50 pounds.  Coyotes have succeeded in filling this niche because the coyote is an opportunistic omnivore; in other words, they will eat just about anything.  They have been known to eat grass and other light herbaceous vegetation, fruit (including your watermelons), seeds, reptiles, rodents, rabbits, birds, dog & cat food (and occasionally the small pet), carrion, white-tail fawns, sheep, goats, poultry, and calves.  Recently research has shown that coyotes do play a role in the decrease of the doe/fawn ratio. Large hunting clubs should maintain a trapping program if it desires to grow a large deer herd.  Ranchers understand the coyote problem and attempt to minimize losses with guard dogs, donkeys, and llamas.

Dangers normally occur when coyotes become habituated to humans.  Do not leave pet food out at night!  Outside cats and small dogs need a ‘safe spot’ and a fenced yard for their security.  Large dogs need to be trained not to follow coyotes into the woods.  A good livestock dog will run the coyote off away from the livestock, but not chase it through the woods.  Dogs that roam rural communities are fair game.  Should one of a farmer’s livestock die, bury the animal properly.  Do not give coyotes a reason to live close to your farm.  In the city, keep your garbage in the garage over-night (this is also good advice if you have roaming dogs or raccoons in the neighborhood).  Garbage trucks are not running at 4:00 AM.  Place your garbage curbside during the daylight hours.  Any source of food is an encouragement for coyotes to relocate to your property.

Finally, let me put the coyote issue in proper perspective.  Nationally 15 – 20 people die every year from dog attacks, whereas one or two people are non-fatally attacked by coyotes.  We need coyotes.  Coyotes fill the role that the mountain lion and wolf once filled.  Not only do coyotes help keep down the surplus rodent population, they also eat the dead stuff (carrion) that we hate to have around.  Coyotes are here to stay, let us learn how to safely live with them.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

Photo credit: Alabama Extension

Garden Talk: Bark Beetles and Your Pines

Ponderosa pine trees stand "dead and red" after being killed by mountain pine beetle near Kamloops, B.C. More dead trees dot the hillside behind.By Andrew J. Baril

ALL green plants are food for other creatures!  I am repeatedly reminded of this statement from one of my botany professors almost forty years ago.  I really do not mind this statement as I am busy eating a beautiful salad, admiring recently canned vegetables, or picking an abundance of corn from my garden.  However, I do not like this statement if it is a chipmunk eating recently planted bulbs, or horn worms working on my tomato plants.  Let’s say this together, “All green plants are food for other creatures.”  Now that wasn’t so bad.  Today, I would like to talk to you about bark beetles and your Southern Pine trees.

You probably have read stories or heard on the nightly news about how Southern Pine Beetles ‘could’ destroy Alabama’s timber industry.  Remember the key word: ‘could’.  A whole host of things could happen tomorrow that would change our lives forever, but probably won’t.  My good friends, please do not let anyone steal your joy.  Life is too good to worry about things that may or may not happen.  Someone once said today has enough trouble of its own to worry about tomorrow.  Now that we have solved that issue, let me change our attention to the beetles.  In Alabama, we have six Southern Yellow Pines growing in our forests.  They are commonly known by these names; long-leaf, short-leaf, slash, lob-lolly, Virginia, and spruce.  These trees are easily recognizable by their cones, needles, and bark as one studies them.  Each tree has its likes and dislikes as to where it prefers to grow, how much water it drinks, and how much room it needs to survive.  All of these trees are considered pioneer species.  A pioneer species is one that if all of the vegetation is removed from a property and the property is left alone, the pioneer species close by will soon occupy the vacated property.  Another thing about pioneer species is that they produce a bunch of wind blown seeds!  An openly grown lob-lolly pine can produce 20 – 25,000 seeds every year, and if they land on the bare soil they will germinate and start to grow.  Growing twenty thousand, 4-inch tall trees on a baseball field is one thing, but when the trees are the size of the hood of your car, only 75-100 trees can grow on that same field.  What happened to the rest of the trees?  They died.  Nature thinned the weak trees out of the woods.  Did you know that trees wrestle?  Yep, trees are in a death wrestle the moment they germinate.  Tree tops, or crowns, wrestle for sunlight.  Tree roots wrestle for nutrients and water in the soil.  The looser dies and the winner goes on to wrestle another day.

This is where the beetles come in to play.  If all the trees had to do was wrestle for nutrients, water, and sunlight that would be easy, but God created this world to be complex; to show His glory.  In doing so, trees have added variables to wrestle with.  Fire, disease, storms, lightning, seasons, drought, all play their part in strengthening or weakening the trees, and then there is always something eating on them too.  Here in Alabama, we have basically three bark beetles.  They are commonly known as the Black Turpentine, Ips Engraver, and Southern Pine beetles.  The Ips Engraver can be divided into the small (4 spined), the medium (5 spined), and the large (6 spined) beetles.  The small beetle attacks the top third of the tree and the large attacks the bottom third.  Guess where the medium beetle attacks, yep the middle.  These beetles are tiny from 1/16” to ¼” long.  The three IPS Engraver beetles only attack weak trees.  They finish off the already dying tree.  If one notices pitch tubes (sap that looks like popcorn) in the center of a bark plate, they have the IPS beetle.  Pulling the bark off an infected tree one will see ‘galleries’ which form the letter “I” or “H”.  Black Turpentine and Southern Pine Beetles (SPBs) begin killing dying trees, but if their numbers grow large enough, they will attack and kill healthy trees.  The largest of the bark beetles at 5/16” long, the Black Turpentine beetle only attacks the bottom 6’ of a tree.  Another way to identify this beetle is to notice a red/pink color to its pitch tubes.  The most destructive pest in Southern forests is the Southern Pine Beetle.  Again it is small, up to 1/8” in length.  Living about one year, the female SPB can lay about six generations of beetles each year, here in Birmingham.  Two ways to identify SPBs is to look at pitch tubes and galleries.  SPB pitch tubes are located in the crevasses between the bark plates, and their galleries form the letter “S” under the bark.  Should epidemic population levels arise, SPB damage could be catastrophic.  Remember what I said about “could.”

How can I stop bark beetle damage?  Nothing.  However, I can lessen the probability of them coming to my forest.  Number one, if planting pine trees, plant the best tree for the site.  Don’t plant lob-lolly on the mountain top and don’t plant long-leaf in a wet bog.  Number two, burn your pines at least every three years!  In some places, the trees need fire every year.  Sure some trees will die in the fire, but the strong will get stronger.  Number three use herbicides.  A farmer grows more corn without weeds growing in the field.  The same thing is true for trees.  Hardwoods and privet are weeds in a pine plantation, and they are wrestling with the pines.  Number four, thin the timber before it gets too crowded.  Have your timber marked by a professional forester.  Not only will you net more money – your forest will look better too.  Remember, bark beetles are part of creation, they are here to stay.  The best way to protect your forest is to have strong vigorously growing trees.  The best way to protect large yard trees is to protect their roots.  Place a ‘Do Not Dig’ sign in your yard to remind yourself that if you cut that root, you may kill the tree.  Blessings.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to Andrew J. Baril, or call 205 879-6964.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Recovering from Last Year’s Drought By Bethany A. O’Rear

Recovering from Last Year’s Drought

Question: As we all know, last year’s drought was of the exceptional kind. I lost several plants in my yard completely. Of the ones that remain, several of them seem to be struggling this spring.  What can I expect, going forward?  What steps can I take to help my landscape recover?

Answer: Drought can be a funny thing. Well, not that funny … but people notice it is dry when there is no rain, yet they seem to forget about it once the rain sets in.

 

Last summer and stretching into fall and winter, Alabama, minus portions of 2 counties in the southeastern corner of the state, experienced the worst drought that we have seen since 2007.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, portions of Central Alabama are still in the exceptional drought category. While the rains of winter returned some water to once-dry ponds and creeks, we as gardeners and homeowners have not seen the end of the effects on our landscapes and naturalized areas.

Drought is much more than scorched grass and wilted tomato plants. It affects plants on the microscopic level, weakening or completely disabling the necessary functions they need to live.  To put things in a timeline, just as we see our plant leaves start to wilt, their roots, even those of established trees, are beginning to suffer.  As soil moisture is pulled away from the roots, cell death in the roots and vascular tissues begins to occur.  As drought continues, root and shoot dieback leads to decline and, in some cases, plant death.

Even if plants are not killed, it can take them months or years to repair the damage. So drought affects trees, shrubs and other plants, not just in the short term but also long term.

We are all very familiar with the short-term symptoms of drought – wilting, leaf scorch, defoliation, etc. – all of which are particularly obvious on young trees and shrubs or new lawns. But it is the long-term effects that will haunt us over the next few years.

Here’s what to expect …

  • Some plants will not come out of dormancy this spring.
  • Lawns will be much thinner or non-existent this year. This will lead to space in the turf for a heavy set of spring and summer weeds.
  • Some trees and shrubs that do break bud after dormancy will have roots systems insufficient to support the canopy, leading to dieback or death next spring and summer.
  • Long term, the stress of drought can reduce a plant’s ability to fight disease and insect pests. It is common in the years after drought to see an influx of Southern Pine Beetles and other stem boring insects that attack trees, both coniferous and hardwood alike.
  • Where dieback occurs, dead branches leave wounds for fungal diseases to invade healthy tissue. In the case of many Leyland cypress trees, which are prone to fungal cankers, the stress of drought allows the disease to spread throughout the tree, leading to plant death.

 

Now that we have discussed many of the negatives associated with last year’s drought, what are my recommendations for landscapes for this year?

First, be kind to your trees. If long-term weather forecasts play out, we may be in for another dry summer. The plants that are desperately trying to bounce back will need TLC throughout the season. Water them when possible.

Stay away from excessive fertilizing. The root system of plants may already be compromised from cell death last summer, and they certainly do not need more canopy to sustain.

In lawns that were heavily affected by drought, controlling weeds will be of paramount importance in helping the lawn recover. Remember, grass needs three things to grow – sun, water and nutrients. Weeds are better at gathering these three things than grass, so we have to work to keep them out.

Lastly, if you see that a tree or shrub has succumbed to disease or insects, it may be time to consider a replacement. Sometimes, the only way to have your yard looking its best is to plant something new.

Garden Talk is written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Bethany at Bethany@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x15.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Now is the Time for a Friendly Fire!

Forest fire. Big flame moves to crown and starting damage of trunk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Talk: Now is the Time for a Friendly Fire!

By Andrew J. Baril

Here in north central Alabama, January through mid-March is a great time to use fire as a tool for land management.  While it is harder to burn in urban areas, it is not against the law.  For those of you, who are curious, give me a holler and I will send you in the right direction.  In the Birmingham five-county area, agricultural & silvicultural (forestry) fires are only allowed during the dormant growing season.  Growing season burns are prohibited because of our normally hazy skies in the summer.  Smoke from fires added to the atmosphere during the summer could cause respiratory problems for some folks.  In this brief article, let me explain why some fires are friendly.

The first reason why some fires are friendly is that the Southeast is a fire related ecosystem.  Before humans moved into this area, lightning during summer thunderstorms set numerous fires.  Because there were no humans, the fires burned until it ran into water or burned itself out.  Normally storms outside of the summer months do not cause ground fires because in cooler storms, lightning is less likely and the leaf litter layer is less likely to dry soon after the storm.  Another reason for these regularly occurring natural fires is the resin within our Southern Pines.  Highly flammable fuels are going to burn very easily and frequently.

As the first people to visit this part of North America observed, fire did not kill all of the vegetation it merely changed it.  If the landscape was a dry location, fires frequented the area, and the land was covered with mostly annual weeds, forbs, grasses, and pine trees in an open savanna-like ecosystem.  In the Black-belt area of the state, fire-tolerant oaks replaced the pines, but the same open ‘park-like’ savannah occurred.  In 1540, Hernando DeSoto discovered this fire ecosystem while traveling through Alabama and described it in his exploration field notes.  Wet landscapes like creek and river bottoms and north facing mountain slopes burned less frequently and contained more of our shrub and hardwood tree species.  Fire was the driving force that fashioned the Southeast.

After the removal of indigenous peoples, establishment of permanent European settlements, and large logging debris wildfires, fire went ‘out of vogue’ as a large-scale ecosystem mover.  Later as open range laws switched to fence laws, fires had to be contained within a landowner’s property.  Finally, after the creation of Smokey Bear and Bambi, fires became a villain on the landscape.  Sixty years of fire suppression has left the Southeast with an unhealthy forest.

What were once large majestic Southern pine savannahs are now hardwood-encroached skinny pine stands.  The savannah ecosystem, with its superior grassland diversity, which supported roaming herds of woodland bison and elk, was transformed into a nutrient deficient hardwood understory that cannot grow a decent deer.  The missing ingredient is fire.  Fire cleans out the underbrush from the woods allowing the pines and fire-tolerant hardwoods to grown to their potential.  Bringing fire back on to the land also helps the dormant flower, grass, and weed seeds to germinate and replace the tangle of briars and hardwoods with the beauty of forest flowers.  Prescribed fire also helps with human settlements.  By burning the forest on a regular occasion, reduces the fuel on the ground (fuel load).  By reducing the fuel load in one area or another helps a wildfire burn out.  As badly as the fire in Gatlinburg was, it was preventable.

Buildings back in the woods need to be protected from fire.  The best protection from fire is a fire!  Burn the fuels when it will not catch the buildings on fire.  Clean brush away from the buildings.  Rake the leaves off the roof of the building.  All of these suggestions are called FireWise www.firewise.org.  If you live in the woods, go to this website and learn how to protect your property.  Also, if you are interested in protecting your property, come out to Tannehill State Park on March 2, at 6:30 pm.  The Bibb County Forestry Planning Committee is conducting a FireWise workshop to help.  Fire is a friendly tool that needs to be employed and respected.  Blessings.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.   The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

It’s time to punish privet (Garden Talk)

dog looking at hardwood

By Andrew J. Baril

As I sit on my front porch looking out into a drizzly sky, I am reflecting on what to write to you this month.  A few hardwood leaves remain in my trees; their lifeless forms clinging to the branch not wanting to cascade to the forest floor.  Silhouetted against a gray sky, is the green of my mountain top pines. Winter is a great time to assess the amount of pine in the forest.  I lost a few pines to lightening this past year, but as I count the trees from my porch I can see my financial friends standing proudly and increasing their value.  Winter is not just a good time to assess pines, but it is also a good time to punish privet hedge.
Chinese (Ligustrum sinense) and Japanese (Ligustrum japonicum) Privet were brought into the US in the 1800s as a landscaping plant.  In our yards, under the strong hand of the hedge shear, the shrub can be pretty.  It grows thick, becoming an evergreen living fence, separating neighbors in closely packed neighborhoods.  Privet has a bountiful supply of pretty, fragrant white flowers in spring and an equally bountiful supply of blue-black berries in the fall and throughout the winter; which birds love.  Apart from the strong hand of the hedge shear, privet can grow to a height of thirty feet, and can provide so much shade that nothing will grow under these shrub-trees.  These shrubs like moist soils, many times we find them growing along streams and creeks in the forest.  One time I found a thirty-acre privet patch growing under a canopy of large cypress and tupelo trees west of Tuscaloosa.  The normally open “park-like” stand of large trees with young trees under them was so crowded with privet, I had to machete my way through this death zone as I appraised the large cypress.  My advice to the landowner was to kill the privet first, allow regeneration to begin, then harvest the mature timber.  Privet, occupying one million forested acres, is second only to Japanese honeysuckle as an invasive plant in Alabama.  Privet is a BIG problem.
How do we get rid of privet?  One landowner at a time.  First for all you homeowners, please do not plant privet in your yards, and if you consider re-landscaping remove your privet and replace it with a native species.  Now for all the rural landowners out there, please get in the battle against this invasive.  Privet is easy to see this time of year, it’s one of the few green plants in the winter woods, and because the plants tend to be shallow-rooted they can be easily pulled.  Small plants, like the one in the picture with Buster, can be hand pulled.  Wrist size plants may require the help of a metal weed-wrench tool.  Chainsaws can tackle the largest of plants.  This method of removal is labor intensive and time consuming. It works well in small areas and with lots of labor.  For those of us doing this by themselves I recommend using herbicides.  Extension has a publication entitled:  ANR 1468-Control Options for Chinese Privet.  http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1468/ANR-1468.pdf  This publication lays out all of the options before us as we begin to tackle the privet problem.
Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!