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Improving Conservation Lands through a Prescribed Fire

October 28, 2016 8:03 AM

As the growing season draws to a close, we here at Madison Parks are shifting gears and turning our focus from mowing and trail maintenance to hayrides and the upcoming ski season.  Somewhere in between, our conservation parks section is hoping the weather will be just right for using a favorite management tool: prescribed fire.

The open prairies, savannas and woodlands of the Midwest were shaped by fire, and many plant species depend on this natural disturbance to maintain and regenerate their habitat.  Fire consumes dead vegetation and fallen leaves, which allows the sun to reach the ground and warm the soil faster in the spring.  This enables seeds to germinate and the seedlings to get established before encountering competition from older, taller plants.  Removing this layer of material also makes it physically easier for the current year's growth to push up toward the sunlight.  Fire also prevents dense thickets of brush, which would shade out a more diverse community of grasses and wildflowers, from forming.  The flames and heat top-kill smaller stems of trees and shrubs, including non-native, invasive plants like buckthorn and honeysuckle.

Did you know that Madison Parks' conservation park section has four certified wildland firefighters at its disposal?  Our conservation staff has taken multiple training courses in fire fighting, fire behavior, and prescribed burning techniques.  Between them, they have more than 40 years of combined experience conducting prescribed burns and fighting wildfires. 

If weather allows, we hope to conduct 11 prescribed burns across 230 acres at 6 conservation parks this fall (map).  For each burn, we develop a burn plan that details how we will notify neighbors and officials, how we will prepare the area to be burned and contain the fire, and how we will conduct the burn under a strict set of weather conditions that will control the intensity of the fire and limit impacts related to smoke. 

For more information on prescribed fire, visit the Wisconsin DNR's website, which has an excellent slideshow that explains how a prescribed burn is carried out.

Paul Quinlan
Conservation Resource Supervisor


Burn crew members wear protective clothing and watch for embers landing outside the burn unit to prevent a wildfire.

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