Prescribed Fire in Pictures
Each spring, as plants respond to the lengthening days with new buds, leaves, and flowers, the Land Conservancy begins a dose of prescribed burns across many of the Conservancy’s nature preserves. Several of the preserves contain ecosystems that depend on occasional fires to keep them healthy. The recent creation of the Land Conservancy’s volunteer fire crew has made it possible to conduct burns at three Kent County preserves this spring. Here’s a snapshot of those prescribed burns and what you can expect to see as an outcome of the fire.
Saul Lake Bog Nature Preserve
Saul Lake Bog contains one of Michigan’s largest and longest running prairie restoration projects. Fire is an essential part of restoring a prairie. Prior to the native prairie grasses that have been established, this preserve was covered with a short European grass called smooth brome, which was planted when the land was used for grazing and farming. This non-native grass is dense and lets very little new growth develop. The prescribed burn helps to hold back the brome while giving a foothold to native seeds, some of which have been waiting for years in the soil, and others which were lovingly planted by volunteers. The charred surface of the field will not last long. Native plants will quickly spring from the soil and by mid summer the new sections of prairie will contain grasses, flowers, and sedges, and will be buzzing with pollinators and other insects.
Maas Family Nature Preserve
The oak savanna was once a common ecosystem in West Michigan. Today less than one percent of the original habitat still exists and it supports many species including the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Oak savannas depend on occasional fire to keep forests from taking over and shading out the savanna plants. Maas Family Nature Preserve is a prime example of the rare ecosystem, and the prescribed burns help to expand the savanna at the edges where the forest has been pushing in. This spring’s fire at Maas will help add several acres of additional prairie. New prairie means more flowers in the summer, more butterflies, and a chance for you to see and enjoy a rare but expanding habitat.
Wege Foundation Natural Area
At Wege Foundation Natural Area, volunteers on the burn crew had the chance to conduct a burn in a much needed area that has never been burned in the history of the preserve (near the Photo Monitoring sign). Many invasive species in this area have hindered the growth of native oak trees and the fire is one more step in restoring this former pine plantation into a native oak forest.