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Controlled Burning: How fires help, not harm, our land

| Evan Patrick

What do you picture when you hear the words land management, conservation and stewardship? 

For many, these words conjure images of new spring growth and colorful wildflowers. Some might picture warm season grasses waving in the breeze and calm, peaceful woodlands. Others may imagine a cold babbling stream lined with white snow.  These images convey tranquility, wellbeing and stability.  What most would not picture, however, is the image of an orange, dancing flame marching across a meadow, leaving in its wake black and smoldering remnants of trees and grasses.  This is not a portrait of tranquility, wellbeing, and certainly not stability, yet it is a prime example of land management, conservation and stewardship practices.

Long before fires were used as land management tools, wildfires occurred naturally throughout the plains, prairies and woodlands of North America.  During the dry season, lightning strikes would ignite the dry stems and leaves of herbaceous plants.  Grasses, forbs, bushes and trees have evolved with these fires and some even require fire for habitat rehabilitation and vitality.  One great example of the relationship between plants and fire is an adaptation known as pyricsene; a phenomenon in which plants are triggered by smoke and fire to release their seeds.  Other plants are coated in flammable oils and resin that burn hot, which promote stronger fires.  Once the fire has diminished, the remaining seeds have more space and nutrients and due to the fire, have less competition. 

Ecologists and habitat rehabilitators strive to use the most natural means of land management, and because of this, fires are now used as a stewardship tool in parks, forests, and private land across the country.  It is now recognized that burns aid in reinvigorating soils by decomposing dead plant and animal material and returning the nutrients to the soil.  Conservationists and land managers use controlled burns not only to revive grasslands and woodlands, but also to create new habitat for animals.  Birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have all adapted to survive and thrive after wildfires.  One of the greatest benefits of fires is that they control and decrease the presence of invasive species while promoting native species without the use of pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals; a fact that any naturalist or nature enthusiast can appreciate.

At The Parklands of Floyds Fork, we are actively engaged in land management, conservation and stewardship.  We are poised to preserve 2,000 acres of forestland, 400 acres of preserved native meadowland, up to 50 acres of restored wetlands, and up to seven miles of restored stream banks.  We are now in the process of expanding our land preservation practices to include controlled burning. The Parklands is currently obtaining a controlled burn permit.  We hope to perform a controlled burn in a section of the park to invigorate healthy growth of warm season grasses.  In previous years our method of prairie management was to mow warm season grasses in winter to assist in decomposition. This season we intend on using the method that nature prefers…fire! 

Stay tuned for updates on our natural areas management plans. 

 

About the Author

Picture of Evan Patrick

Evan Patrick

Evan began his career with the Parklands in 2013 as a park attendant and part-time helper on Natural Areas projects. In 2014 he joined the Natural Areas team as a technician and in the spring of 2015 was promoted to Natural Areas Team Leader. While working he spends his time promoting healthy habitats for the plants and animals that live in the park. Patrick was born in Morehead, Kentucky near the Daniel Boone National Forest, where his appreciation for nature, conservation and stewardship was cultivated. Patrick is a graduate of the University of Louisville, where he earned a degree in anthropology. His interests include cooking, mushroom foraging, craft beer and the outdoors.

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