Friday, April 13, 2012

Apr 13, 2012: Erv's Field Notes #30

Fire burns through the prairie, 4/12/12 (Kevin Kane)

Friday, April 13, 2012

I have used these "Field Notes" for reporting natural history observations at Hayden Park. Many of you have told me how much you enjoy reading them and I thank you for those kind comments.

The purpose of this note is to report on recent management practices at the Park. If you have visited the park in the last week or two, you could not have missed seeing large areas that have been burned, the most recent was yesterday. If you haven't been to the park you can see Kevin Kane's dramatic photos at his blogspot:

Fire has been a natural component of prairie ecosystems for thousands of years. Prairie plants and animals have evolved and adapted to fire and it is now recognized that Native Americans often used fire to manage prairie vegetation of a variety of benefits including the improvement of grazing for bison and elk. Except for bur oak and a few other species, woody vegetation is intolerant to fire. Prairie ecosystems are devoid of trees largely because of a combination of relatively low rainfall, grazing by large herbivores, and fire.

So it is not surprising that managers of prairie remnants and reconstructed prairies find that prescribed burning and grazing is an important tool for managing prairies. For small parks and preserves such as Hayden Park grazing is not an option.

An unplanned burn occurred earlier this year when a fire in a road ditch on the west side of the park spread rapidly into the park. About 26 acres of prairie and dry wetland burned before local fire departments were able to put it out. Weather conditions often dictate when a burn is done and this year's early dry spring has been ideal. As a result, park staff were able to burn most of the park's grassy vegetation.

Several of you have expressed concern that the burning was too extensive and did not leave enough unburned refuges for butterflies, toads and other critters that can't find escape the fire. Prairie managers have often been criticized for over aggressiveness in their burns and in recent years they have developed strategies for burning less frequently and in small patches. I share your concern and that is why Wolf Oesterreich's regular monitoring of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects is so important. I encourage anyone who would like to be involved with monitoring to contact either Wolf or myself. Someone with expertise in identifying butterflies and moths, or other insects is especially needed.

Another area of concern is the control of invasive species. What makes a plant or animal invasive? That will be the topic of my next Field Note.

Erv Klaas

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