A Controlled Burn

After the terrible drought in Texas last summer, everyone agrees that wildfires are to be avoided, if at all possible. The key here is the word “wild,” meaning uncontrolled. If you drove near the Nature Preserve on Ash Wednesday, you probably noticed a fire in Meadowlark Meadow, the large grassy area in front of Mahan Manor. This was a “controlled” burn, something that property managers use to help control invasives without using herbicides.

If the conditions are just right…perfect temperature, wind conditions, and barometric pressure…a deliberately set fire in a limited region can be very beneficial. For thousands of years, tall grass prairies and open brushlands were kept free of trees by the occasional wildfires that cleared the landscape every two to 50 years. These fires were caused by lightning, or set intentionally by Native Americans. They had discovered that fire killed woody plants, but encouraged fruit bearing shrubs, and forage producing grasslands.

Present day research and experience have shown that prescribed burning can be an effective management tool. Prescribed burns are used most frequently to maintain and restore native grasslands. Prescribed burning can recycle nutrients tied up in old plant growth, control many woody plants and herbaceous weeds, improve poor quality forage, increase plant growth, reduce the risk of large wildfires, and improve certain wildlife habitat. To achieve the above benefits, fire must be used under very specific conditions, using very specific techniques.

The native grasses and wild flowers in these areas grow long roots deep into the soil. If the foliage burns off, the roots just send up new shoots, but shrubs, invasives and other unwanted plants will be killed off. Come back to the meadow in a few weeks and watch for new growth of these native plants!

Naturally yours,