The purposeful and controlled burning of a section of an ecosystem. Also: patch-burning. patch burnv., n. patch-burnadj.
Dr. Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, a professor of rangeland ecology at Oklahoma State, and his colleagues are working on a rotational approach, patch burning, in which the prairies will be burned every three or four years, a span they say is sufficient to maintain grasslands. Animals would be free to graze on burned or undisturbed parts of the landscape.
Dr. Fuhlendorf said: "We have three years of data from three sites along an east-west gradient across the Great Plains. We compare the patch burning approach to typical management of each area. So far, we have not been able to find any differences in livestock production but we have documented increased habitat diversity with patch burning. Greater diversity in habitat with the patch burning approach leads to an increased diversity in insects, small mammals and grassland birds, so it proceeds through the food chain."
—E. Vernon Laux, "Sky Is Falling on Prairie Chicken, Sacrifice of a Rite of Spring," The New York Times, May 28, 2002
Mr Taylor, whose pioneering family settled the nearby Taylorville district late last century, has long known the land supports abundant birdlife. But when a survey prior to plans to patch-burn to increase the useful pasture revealed its avian riches, conservationists acted.
—Brad Crouch, "How 51,300HA of marginal mallee country became bastion of survival for threatened birds," Sunday Mail, June 22, 1997
Today's term is an example of what tall-forehead types call anthropogenic (man-made) fire. The phrase patch burning may be new, but the practice is far from it. Australian aborigines have applied controlled fires to their lands for tens of thousands of years, a practice labeled firestick farming by anthropologists. Humans all over the world now use burning-off programs to maintain biodiversity in forests and brushlands and to improve soil conditions in pastures and agricultural areas. (In an agricultural context, slash-and-burn tactics are often called swidden farming.) In most of these programs, the sections of the ecosystem to be burned are rotated, with the time between burns called the fire-return interval.