Maintaining Native Prairie Ecosystems

Controlled or Prescibed BurningPrairie Fire Image

One of the most important factors in maintaining a native prairie community is prescribed burns. Prescribed burns are usually conducted every three to five years. Prairies are fire-dependant ecosystems. The primary purpose of the prescribed burn is to manage and reduce the layer of dead and decaying vegetation which naturally accumulates over several growing seasons. The benefits of prescribed burning are an increase in forbs or flowers for several growing seasons, an increase in plant diversity, and controlled burns release plant nutrients back into the soil. Additionally, prescribed burns control the growth of volunteer trees and shrubs. If left alone, a native prairie will grow into a forest.

Safety is Important

It is important to have a plan for a prescribed burn. Safety is the most important concern. Some things to consider are:

  • Time of year (spring is usually best).
  • Acceptable and unacceptable weather conditions. Do not burn in windy conditions or unusually dry conditions.
  • Create fire breaks.
  • Burn small areas at a time.
  • Have adequately trained personnel on hand (this activity might serve a dual purpose of training fire department personnel).
  • Have proper fire equipment on-hand so that the burn does not get out of control.
  • Notify neighbors and public safety officials prior to the burn.

Other Thoughts

If you do’t burn at all you will see a reduction in plant diversity. One or two plant species will dominate the prairie. Eventually, if left alone the prairie will turn into a forest.

The residence need to be notified of the burn. It is important to develop a public education program that explains why the City of Champaign is conducting a controlled burn. Do not conduct the burn when winds may blow smoke into the residence area. However, when properly conducted, a controlled burn has very little smoke. Fire will actually consume smoke. To experience this, let the smoke from a blown out candle drift into a the flame of a burning candle. Here is a link to a public education piece developed by the Minneapolis Parks Department: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/caring/NatAreas/prescribed_burns.pdf


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