The Pennsylvania Game Commission plans to burn 70 acres of woodland in Rush Township, close to but not in Locust Lake State Park.

The controlled burn, called the White Oak Burn, may happen as early as this month or as late as October. The commission will alert the public through its website,

"Controlled burns are 100 percent weather dependent. We need some moisture in the ground, but not an excessive amount. If it rains, we would need about three days for it to dry out," said David Henry, regional forester for the commission's southeast region.

The area in Schuylkill County in which the controlled burn will be done is called state game land 227, with a total of 1,543 acres.

The commission is burning the land in order to allow for better growth of oak trees. The land contains an older oak stand, Henry said, with trees that are 90-100 years old and have diameters ranging from 18-22 inches.

Why oaks

are important

Oak acorns are nutritious and support the winter food needs of a wide variety of birds and mammals.

Oak seedlings must compete with tulip poplar, birch and maple trees, which are far less important to wildlife. If the oaks are choked out by other species, there will be less food for wildlife, and the species composition of the forest changes.

Henry said oaks have "grown and evolved with fire."

Oak trees' root systems go much deeper than those of other trees. A controlled burn will kill off the birches, maples and tulip poplars, but the oaks will survive and be able to grow faster and stronger because they have more sunlight and nutrients.

Now, the 70-acre burn area has a thick layer of leaves, which block sunlight from the forest floor. There are also red maple seedlings and blueberry and huckleberry shrubs, which create a thick layer of shade.

The controlled burn

The burning will not result in a raging wildfire, Henry said. The project is overseen by a "burn boss," who writes a detailed plan that must be approved by the commission and reviewed by other state agencies.

He said about 20 game commission employees will be on site the day of the fire. The area will be surrounded by an eight-foot-wide clearing called a fire break. Only those involved with the burn will be allowed near the site, along with fire equipment and water resources, and local fire companies and emergency workers will be notified in advance.

The controlled burn starts with a small, easily extinguished test burn to see how the fire behaves and how the smoke disperses. If that is successful, the controlled burn can begin.

The controlled burn is done against the wind, in 100-foot patches, and moves slowly, taking about 2-1/2 hours, Henry said.

"This will not in any way be a wildfire. It will not look like any of the western fires we've seen on television," he said.

After the burn, the game commission monitors the area for 24 hours to make sure there is no rekindling.

While the area will remain blackened for a time, the oaks will grow fast, Henry said.

So far this year, the game commission has done five grassland controlled burns in the southeast region, which includes Schuylkill, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties. It has eight potential controlled burns planned for forested areas, including the White Oak burn.

Last year, the commission did three controlled burns on forested lands, totaling about 600 acres, and four on grasslands totaling about 100 acres.