Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Sherman is soon going to be doing something officials say often gets a bad reputation because of its destructive potential but plays a vital role in ensuring the health of the animals, the environment and the natural places people love. In an effort to prevent uncontrollable fires from breaking out in the future and to combat the encroachment of unwanted vegetation, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is planning to conduct a prescribed burn of about 600 acres next week

Officials hoped to conduct a series of controlled burns this week in the Harris Creek and Sandy units, but Monday’s rains have temporarily delayed the project. Officials will reevaluate conditions through humidity, temperature and wind speeds and hope to carry out the burn between next Monday and Wednesday.

“It will reduce the fuel loading, which makes it much less likely for a catastrophic wildfire to carry through the habitat,” Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley said. “It also puts nutrients back into the soil and gets rid of woody vegetation, like winged elm, honey locust, mesquite trees and things we really don’t want in there, because they’re not truly part of the prairie habitat.”

Whaley said staff from the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service’s Witchita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma will be brought in to conduct the prescribed burn.

“They’re all trained and specialists in fire management, whether it be prescribed burning or wildfire containment,” Whaley said. “They come down with the equipment they need, including brush trucks, safety gear, drip torches, flappers and tools to either start the fire or put it out. We have bulldozers around too, in case the fire starts to move somewhere it’s not supposed to. That allows us to build dirt lines to stop the fire.”

Precipitation is the most influential factor in the speed with which the land will rebound, but Whaley said the process generally moves quickly.

“It takes about a week or 10 days, depending on rainfall to start turning green again,” Whaley said. “When it starts to green up, it provides browse for a lot of animals. Your deer and turkey will be attracted into the open areas that were just burned and really all the native wildlife comes out to enjoy the new growth.”

The selected areas are expected to close to the public on burning days, but Whaley said the closures should be brief and have minimal impact on visitors.

“We will burn near some roads, but I don’t think we’ll be closing the Harris unit other than maybe one of the hiking trails,” Whaley said. “We’ll have to play that by ear.”

Whaley also said that historically ecosystems evolve with fire.

“Sooner or later it’s going to burn,” she said. “So, if you can do it when you can control the fire, where it goes and how fast it moves, then you really reduce the risk to people and structures.”

Drew Smith is a reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith@heralddemocrat.com.