Friday, November 11, 2011

Park District Begins Prairie Burns

THIS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12TH: A prairie burn is scheduled to take place at Turkeyfoot Preserve, located off of Bishop Road, just south of Greenville.

The Park District has begun to burn the prairies located throughout the park system. These are controlled burns initiated and monitored by our fully trained staff with assistance from Greenville Township, Liberty Township and Gettysburg Fire Departments. Fires are a natural and necessary component to prairie ecology.

Prairies are burnt on a 3-5 year rotation, with burns occurring each year; although the same prairies are not burnt each year. Turkeyfoot Preserve is scheduled to be burned this Saturday, November 12th. In addition to Turkeyfoot on the 12th, it is hoped that the prairies of Shawnee Prairie Preserve will make it on the schedule for this late autumn if the weather continues to cooperate.

In order to occur, each burn requires the correct wind and weather conditions, which can be a challenge during typical Ohio weather! Throughout each burn, staff members surround the fire to monitor all sides to ensure all is going according to plan.

While a prairie burning would appear to be a disastrous event to us, as humans, it provides many opportunities and benefits to the plants of a prairie ecosystem. Unlike trees, which grow in a fashion that does not benefit from fire*, grasses are not hurt by fires in the early spring or late fall, since the plants are dormant at this time. Prairie burns are always scheduled during this dormancy. While dormant, a plant transports all of its food down into the root system and the above-ground portion dies off. As a fire burns through a prairie, it consumes dead matter from past seasons and turns it into nutrient-rich ash. These nutrients return to the soil and are quickly taken up by the plant’s root systems.

Fire provides yet another benefit to prairies by removing woody-plants from the ecosystem. This benefits the whole prairie by stopping trees from dominating and changing the ecosystem from prairie into forest.

Prairie burns are a natural occurrence that would typically happen due to a lightning strike or some other method. There is also evidence that shows that Native Americans would manage prairie areas in order to ensure food sources would continue to be available. Native Americans may have actually created prairies where there was once forest!

Due to the many benefits of prairie burnings, the summer following a burn, a prairie will be much more vibrant in colors, and the size of the plants will have increased greatly. Don’t believe us? Come on out to the parks this summer and compare this year’s burn sites with our other prairies!

*Most trees do not benefit from fire, although some tree species actually benefit from forest fires! These benefits may be direct, such as a pinecone being opened from the heat of the fire; or they may be indirect benefits, such as fire clearing out old debris that was blocking sunlight within the forest.

Robb Clifford
Darke County Parks Naturalist

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