Wildlife workers set fires in Big Branch Marsh

LACOMBE, LA — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers burned about 75 acres in the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday.

Officers say they targeted a peninsula on the western side of the refuge.  They say it was overgrown with mostly one or two kinds of plants, preventing many other types from flourishing.  They also say this hurricane season’s storm surges had pushed debris onto the land.

Not only does the fire remove the debris and any invasive plants, it also allows new, tender plants to grow.  Wildlife officers say many animals in the refuge prefer to eat the newer plants.

“By applying fire, you eliminate the storm surge, you eliminate the coarse grass or invasive species,” said Fire Management Officer Chris LeRouge.  “And that will allow the vegetation to come back, which ultimately benefits the wildlife.”

Work started Tuesday morning and was wrapping up by the middle of the afternoon.  Workers say weather conditions were perfect for the fires, with a wind out of the north.  So the smoke from the fires was pushed over Lake Pontchartrain instead of into nearby neighborhoods.

“We want to really mitigate any effects of the smoke onto the urban interface in the neighborhoods. And of course, blowing right over the lake is ideal for this unit,” LeRouge said.

Workers used boats and walked on foot to get to the appropriate areas to set the fires.  Some of the workers came in from USFWS offices from other states.  They say the fires are the most cost effective tool for land managers.  The prescribed burns also reduce the risk of wildfires that can threaten people and animals.