Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Fire is mother nature’s clean up tool. Once it’s cleaned up, she grows it back up again. It works quite efficiently, although not to most human's liking.
Ya know how you prevent forest fires, for real? This isn’t a Smokey the Bear post. This is about being a good steward of the land. Things need to be renewed and cleaned up. If you own 10 acres of forest and just let it go, the dead-fall and fodder will build up and build up. All it takes is a spark, a lightning bolt thrown from Perun, or a hot ember from a neighbors fire and it goes up in flames, with little to no chance of stopping it from clearing the slate back to a blank canvas.
1 - Pick up dead-fall
Pretty easy to do. It doesn’t have to be a big, drawn-out affair. The kids can help, too! Even toddlers can pick up sticks and twigs and throw them in a wagon or wheelbarrow, and they love to be little helpers! Make it a once a week thing to walk around and gather wood, big and small. Fill up your wagon or wheelbarrow and move it on out. You could also opt to make a few small piles around different places, to create small animal habitats.
2 - Bring Down Large, Dead Branches
Cutting or pulling down large, dead branches, especially near your living spaces, is paramount for safety. You never know when that hundreds of pounds of deadwood will finally break free and drop, possibly hurting someone, or damaging livestock or property, unless you bring it down on your terms. A little forethought, planning, and work in the present could avoid a lot of suffering and cost down the road.
3 - Cull Diseased or dying trees
Eventually, that disease will jump to other trees and can devastate whole sections of woods. Diseased and dying trees will fall unpredictably and cause havoc, or even death if it lands on your home. A few short weeks after moving to our new property on its heavily wooded 2.5 acres a diseased ash tree broke off, about 15 feet high, and crashed to the ground. Thank Perun that it wasn't close to the house but it did take out 2 healthy trees on its way down. We also now have a widowmaker - the dead tree is still attached to the top of the broken, 15-foot high stump. It will have to be cleared, probably by professionals.
4 - Clear a fire break
This one is not so much for cleaning up the land as it is a safety precaution. You want a good-sized section of cleared land that doesn't have low lying scrub, thick mats of dead leaves, and dead-fall that would fuel a fire. At least a 10-foot section from the treeline to your living area would be a good start. It doesn't have to be cleared to the dirt, but grass, moss, or other low lying, not as likely to burn fast, type of landscaping would be ideal. Even if it doesn't save your house, it could give you and your family time to evacuate.
5 - Livestock Rototilling
This one applies if you have livestock to do this. Chickens and guinea fowl are the smallest livestock that could help. They can be let to free range to eat ticks, small rodents, etc. and their scratching will turn up the top layer of fallen leaves or pine needles. If you have a large acreage this wouldn't get much done without having huge flocks, but every little bit helps (and those free-range eggs are awesome!)
Goats would be the next ones up. Yes they will strip bark and other things, but they also will eat some of the low lying scrub brush and their hooves will turn up the soil and mulch some of the leaves into it, for healthier soil and less fire fuel.
Pigs are awesome rototillers. If you let them forage for long enough they will root around and really dig all the compost-able leaves into the dirt while they look for goodies. You just want to remove them before they go too far and damage the trees' bases or roots.
6 - Trim Down the Big'uns
That huge oak that's shading out 6 other healthy trees isn't a hazard but it will create extra dead trees that could fall if they can't get enough sun to continue to grow. There is no need to clear cut sections of tall trees but culling a couple of big ones every few years not only clears the way for new growth but gives you usable material. It's no different than gardening or livestock. Some can be harvested so that new can grow in its place. A circle of life in miniature.
If you go and clear the deadwood (and, hey - have a fire for some mallow roasting with it!), cut down some trees when they get too big and shade out the rest (and build something with it!), remove diseased trees (maybe heat your home up with the cut logs), etc. you are doing the work so that Mother Nature doesn’t have to do it for herself. Less tinder and deadfall - less risk. It ends up coming to the same thing; renewal. The fire can wipe out everything, including you and your home, in one fell swoop, or you can do the work a little at a time and benefit from it doubly!