Tom's Blog

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Restoration ecology in the time of corona virus: controlled burns

These are fearsome times, with a modern plague raging  across the land. Unfortunately, the full significance of the epidemic only became evident in late March, just when burn season was well started. (We had already done three successful burns.)

On March 17, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued a "Safe at home" order, which will extend for a month. The order ends April 24, which unfortunately is near the end of our regular burn season. (Of course, the rule could always be extended.)

What to do?

I think prescribed burns can continue, provided each worker practices what the Governor calls "social distancing". (This is the procedure recommended for construction workers.) Social distancing should not be difficult on the usual burn. The only inconvenience would be that car pooling would be prohibited. (Nothing wrong with renting a large van or bus and sitting well apart!)

I strongly recommend that burns not be canceled. Ecosystems that require fire are too fragile to go unburned, even for a single year!

Burn from Dec 2018. The two workers on the right are too close together, but in a burn now would be farther part.


Blogger Scott Fulton said...

Hi Tom,
As you may be aware, I sent out an email yesterday from The Prairie Enthusiasts recommending that in view of the recent WI and IL state orders, we should in fact suspend burns for the season. I personally participated in some burns the previous Sunday, and although everyone was trying to be very careful, it was surprisingly difficult to maintain adequate social distancing. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you are not paying very close attention. You really do need to stay fully focused on the burn itself to be safe!

In addition, the WI DNR on Monday sent out a letter to its private burn contractor partners raising some issues that had not occurred to me. The big one was that with everyone staying at home in a state of heightened fear, there is a much higher risk than normal of a burn being reported to the authorities, resulting in a needless and now dangerous use of critical first responder resources.

My personal take on this is that we need to all focus on working together to do whatever is needed to get through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in a way that minimizes loss of life and the collapse of our healthcare and economic systems and social fabric. At this time the only tool that is proven to work is to all stay at home as much as we can. As you point out, it is critical that prairies and savannas be burned by people for their survival, but we must remember as well that these natural communities are surprisingly resilient. Our biggest priority right now is to work together as a human community to do everything we can to insure we are able to get out there this coming fall and begin burning again.


Scott Fulton, President & Acting Executive Director
The Prairie Enthusiasts

March 25, 2020 at 3:47 PM  

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