Prescribed Burns on the Prairie

prescribed burn in field

Many people drove past the Nature Center today to find out what the big smoke cloud was. Which was understandable because it was huge! It was our guys performing a prescribed burn on a section of our prairie grass. Prescribed burns are done every 3 to 5 years but also tend to be weather dependant. Lighting fire relies on the weather

Prescribed burns on prairies are useful for many reasons. The main reason is the flush of nutrients given back to the ground as the fire moves through. The fire helps to release the many different chemicals, water and air that are stored in plants. These nutrients are released into the soil and then they help the new round of plants grow big and strong. The fire makes the ground black but it will soon green-up.

Another important part of the fire is to manage the invasive species. The native plants will thrive through the fire but the invasive plants will not. It will kill them off and prevent them from going to seed. This way the native species will have more space to flourish and do well. The native plants that rely on burning actually come back stronger than before. The combustion aspect of fire works to change the plant structure which is how it becomes stronger.

Once the fire has moved through, some of the plants will have been burnt completely away leaving bare ground. The difference in the plants then becomes a great feeding ground for a diversity of wildlife. Some of the material that didn’t burn is good too because it allows for whatever eggs were there to survive and finish maturing. The diversity that fire brings is impressive and something to watch for.prescribed burn roadside

Many of Iowa’s native landscapes will thrive with prescribed burns as the Native Americans and nature before them would burn naturally. The Native Americans would burn to entice the bison to come to eat the newly flourishing prairie lands. Even the native Oak Savannas benefit from burning. The oak tree is built to handle fire and after a certain age, the thick bark becomes fire resistant. The scarring on oaks from fire is also very beneficial to the oaks as well as it helps prevent them from rotting.

Fire can be very beneficial but can also be dangerous. If you have a piece of land you think might benefit from a prescribed burn, make sure to check with your local Department of Natural Resources and city to find out policies, ordinances and if they have a recommendation of a group who can help with at least the first burn. More goes into it than you would think but if you’re willing to learn and do, it’s worth it.

Check out the resources and photos below!

Check out some great resources here:

Iowa State Extension –
Oak Savannas –
Tall Grass Restoration –

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