Tom's Blog

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Importance of fire with Midwest oak savannas

We have been burning our oak savannas at Pleasant Valley Conservancy "annually" for the past 20 years. They have always been dormant season burns, either late fall or early spring. These annual burns are part of the reason the PVC savannas look so spectacular.

This year, because of the corona virus pandemic, our burn permits have all been canceled. (Our principal oak savanna burn was planned for 40 acres, a substantial size.)

Although we have willingly complied with the burn ban, to help in our small way in control of a global tragedy, a few words about the importance of savanna burns might be relevant.

Burns are most important for the more open savannas, where the understory vegetation (and principal fuel) is prairie-like.

The first photo shows how lush this unburned vegetation is. With this sort of understory, it takes quite a while for this year's new growth to get started. That is why the controlled burn so dramatically stimulates the understory growth. Areas that have been burned are usually 2-3 weeks ahead of unburned areas.

Understory vegetation of  an unburned  bur oak savanna, March 2020

Similar vegetation in March 2019, just at the start of the controlled burn

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Corona virus: Controlled burns for natural areas now canceled

Since my post yesterday, Wisconsin DNR Forestry has canceled burn permits for natural areas. (Burns for agricultural purposes are still permitted.)

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.