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Prescribed burns planned in Lakeshore Nature Preserve

November 13, 2012 By

Photo: controlled prairie burn

Representatives of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and employees of Quercus Land Stewardship Services conduct a controlled prairie burn in the Biocore Prairie at the University of Wisconsin–Madison on Nov. 1, 2011. The prairie is located east of the Eagle Heights apartments.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Don’t be surprised if you notice a dark cloud of smoke rising near the western edge of campus soon. What you are seeing is most likely one of the prescribed burns that may take place in areas of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve during the next week or two, weather conditions permitting.

Fire is a natural element of a healthy prairie ecosystem and an essential tool for restoration and management of prairies. Prescribed burns are one management strategy to help control weeds, remove encroaching woody plants, and encourage prairie plant growth.

Preserve field technician Adam Gundlach says the Biocore Prairie was burned last Thursday. Other smaller units with similar vegetation may also be burned near Willow Creek and Lot 34.

“The prairie’s exposed location allows its abundant upright fine fuels to dry quickly following precipitation,” says Gundlach, noting that the leaf litter of surrounding woodlands often remains too damp to carry fire.

Gundlach says if conditions are conducive for fire to carry through oak leaf litter, several woodland and savanna units near the base of Picnic Point are also slated for prescribed burns. Many of those areas are in the initial stages of restoration, and fire would serve to prep the site for sowing native seeds later in the fall.

The cool, humid nature of autumn makes it a difficult season in which to schedule burns. Cloudy, wet conditions are often interspersed with a smattering of sunny, dry days. The shorter day length, cooler temperatures, and lower sun angle increases the time it takes for fuels to dry out after rain.

Given the preserve’s proximity to the campus and surrounding residential neighborhoods, the prescribed burn program is dependent on specific wind and weather conditions to lift smoke away from sensitive areas.

“Much as indigenous Americans varied timing of burns to maintain different plant communities on the land, we, too, can vary the time we use prescribed fire as a tool,” says Gundlach.

“With effective use of fire in the coming years, we will hopefully be able to reduce the need for routine manual labor tasks, while stimulating the resurgence of former plant communities,” he adds.

The burns will be conducted by a crew from Quercus Land Stewardship Services. All members of the burn crew have completed wildland fire training courses certified by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.