As the snow melts and spring gets closer, wildlife biologists and technicians prepare for another season of prescribed burning. A lot of time and care goes into each plan of a prescribed burn. First they study their records and the sites to see what areas need to be burned and are feasible to burn during the upcoming spring season. Next they create burn plans that layout firebreaks, points of concern, what weather conditions would create the "perfect" burn conditions, number of people needed, equipment needs, and the list goes on. Once the plan is written, it has to be reviewed and approved. When approved they create the firebreaks, get equipment ready, and train personnel. Then they wait for the conditions to be right.
Why are prescribed burns done on the prairies? Before the European settlers came to the prairies, fire was a natural occurrence. Lightening strikes would occur and burn a couple of acres up to hundreds of acres. Fires were also started by Native Americans to drive game, encourage growth of nuts, berries, seeds, etc., for food, improve pasture for domestic and wild animals, protect villages and camps, and to make travel easier. When the settlers arrived they tried hard to work the land, but it wasn't until the invention of the steel plow that the settlers were successful in breaking the sod. With this success came the disappearance of the prairies and the disappearance of the fires that the remaining prairies needed.
Managing prairies with prescribed burns has many benefits. Unburned prairies leave a mantle of dead and decaying vegetation. This stifles the growth of the prairie plants and deprives plants of space and light. In a study comparing an area burned in March or April after the snows melt to an area unburned for 25 years, there was a three- to four-fold increase in forbs (flowers) for 1 to 2 growing seasons. Plant diversity after a burn increases for 6 to 7 years and then the stifling growth once again occurs, but annually burned grasslands also create small plant diversity. This is why burns commonly are done every 3-5 years. The burn also helps release the nutrients in the dead vegetation so it can be used by the new growth. The blackened soil heats up fast by absorbing solar energy, thus stimulating speedy seed germination, sprouting and growth. Burning also helps in controlling shrubs that are invading into the prairie. Without burning, many of the prairies would eventually turn in forests.
Prairies are an important part of the ecosystem. Prairies have an abundance of plants, insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles, many of these found only in prairies. Warm season grass prairies provide excellent cover for wildlife because they hold up better under severe winds, snow, etc. The grasses and forbs also provide seed and nectar for insects, butterflies, birds, and small mammals. But to get these benefits, fire must occur to restore the prairie.
Cleaning the stream water is vitally important to the fish and wildlife found throughout the preserve. After the water leaves the preserve, it is vital to those that live downstream.
Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve
Northeast corner of I-80/90 and IN 49
2401 Village Point, Chesterton, IN 46304
178 E Sidewalk Rd, Chesterton, IN 46304
Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy, Inc
(the non-profit organization)
PO Box 802
Chesterton, IN 46304