2018-04-22 / Insight

Prescribed burn at Prairies & Ponds on Tuesday to encourage biodiversity

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — On Tuesday afternoon, weather permitting, a partnership between Lapeer Fire & Rescue, Lapeer Parks & Recreation and Chatfield School will institute a prescribed burn at the Prairies and Ponds area adjacent to the school. The burn is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

The burn will encourage biodiversity in a city nature park that functions as a migratory stopover site, and according to Chatfield School ecology teacher Peter McCreedy, the aim for this year’s burn is to restore a historical plant community called an oak savanna, which has been documented in pre-settlement vegetation maps of Lapeer County. “These unique ecosystems are a combination of prairie grasses and wild flowers mixed with forest species, especially oak,” McCreedy said.

According to McCreedy, fire played an important natural role in the development and maintenance of grasslands, forests, and wetlands throughout history in the Great Lakes region. “For thousands of years, tallgrass prairies and open oak woodlands were kept free of shrubs by the occasional wildfires that cleared the landscape every year or two,” he said. “These fires were caused by lightning or set intentionally by Native Americans, who used fire to clear areas for agriculture, improve forage for game species, stimulate berry and acorn production, and to ease travel.”

The prescribed burn is nothing new, said Lapeer Fire Marshal Ron Best. The burns have been a yearly occurrence in the area for nearly a decade, provided weather cooperates, and like this year’s burn, they happen under the watchful eye of the Lapeer Fire & Rescue. “We try to make sure we have at least four guys out there keeping an eye on things,” said Best. “What we do when we go out there is to stand by to make sure the fire is contained to the area that they’re burning.”

In addition to ensuring everything goes according to plan, the firefighters on scene will use the event as a teachable moment. “(The burn) provides another perspective on firefighter training, expertise and community service,” said McCreedy. “Students will be engaged as well, maintaining fire breaks and using the fire brooms for cleanup.” Firefighters will work with the students on-site to provide a bit of perspective to the event. “Peter gets the kids out there and they get involved,” said Best. “We educate them on the proper way to do it and the dangers of it, wind shifting, you can get yourself into trouble, it’s kind of neat.”

Prescribed burning, said McCreedy, is the controlled application of fire to accomplish specific land management goals. Prescribed burning recycles nutrients tied up in old plant growth and controls many woody plants and herbaceous weeds. Fire stimulates new plant growth, especially in native plants and wildflowers. “Prairie plants have very deep root systems that grow 15 feet below the soil surface, this both protects them from fire and, as they decay, enriches the soil,” he said. “Fire also promotes the viability of prairie plant seeds. In short, fire gives a competitive advantage to native fire-adapted species which also provide valuable habitat to wildlife.”

As always, said Best, safety is the number one priority, and if weather conditions do not allow for a safe prescribed burn, it won’t happen. Weather forecasts indicate favorable conditions, however. Basically they’ll mow down an area and outline it and then we try to burn against the win, so if it’s coming from the south we’ll start at the south,” said Best. “We’ve never had any issues out there. But if the wind shifts, then we’re done.”

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