Monday, January 6, 2020

Prescribed forest fires control ticks? Well, maybe ...

blacklegged (deer) tick. Image: Joyce Sakamoto/Penn State

It has become a fad of sorts lately for forest and wildlife man­agers to extol the value of controlled fire in controlling tick pop­ulations, and by extension Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Makes sense to me.

But an excellent article in the latest issue of Popular Science online entitled Our Best Bet Against Tick Infestations Might Be Fire – makes it clear it’s not so simple as setting a fire once in a while. I find it fascinating that we’re paying such a steep price in public health for disrupting the natural rhythms of ecosystems. It seems Smokey Bear is not such a great guy after all.

But, perhaps predictably, scientists are learning that white-tailed deer play a huge role distributing ticks after fires.

Fire physically kills most ticks, but the question is, how quickly tick populations can rebound. One researcher found more than six times the number of tick larva two years after an area of oak forest in the Ozarks was burned than in nearby unburned tracts.

The researcher attributed these strange results to deer. He believes deer were drawn to the new plant growth that sprouted after the fire. “They move into those recently burned areas to feed and bring ticks with them,” he said. The trick, he thinks, is to burn more often. He says that several studies have demon­strated that fires everyone to two years decreases tick numbers.

Wonder if that’s possible on large tracts in Pennsylvania?


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