If you happened to notice a lot of smoke in Ulster County about a week ago, here's why, and it's a very normal thing.

There have been many brush fires already this year in Hudson Valley, and if you live in Ulster County, you might have seen a bunch of smoke about a week ago filling the sky. It turns out that forest rangers assisted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with a controlled burn at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge.

There are two basic causes of wildfires, the natural one being lightning, and the other is us, yup, people. Controlled burns assist in the prevention of wildfires. A controlled or a prescribed burn is usually done during the cooler months to reduce fuel build-up and decrease the chance of a more serious and hotter fire. The controlled burns also help the wildlife present in the area. The biggest benefit reducing the very combustible fuels that could feed a wildfire.

The controlled burn at the Shawangunk Grasslands successfully burned 417 acres. The prescribed burns also assist in the training of local firefighters, by giving them the chance to build skills that are needed to combat wildfires.

Many trees depend on fire to clear out the competition and release their seeds. These burns control competing vegetation, accessibility, and control tree disease.  When planning these prescribed burns, there are many environmental factors that need to be considered like weather conditions and smoke management. They work in close coordination with the National Weather Service.

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Today these parks are located throughout the country in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The land encompassing them was either purchased or donated, though much of it had been inhabited by native people for thousands of years before the founding of the United States. These areas are protected and revered as educational resources about the natural world, and as spaces for exploration.

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