Facilities Management: Annual prescribed prairie burn

Published: April 14, 2014

Sometime during the next few weeks, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside will be conducting prescribed burns on the natural prairie portions of campus. Burns are planned east of Wood Road near Facilities Management and Tallent Hall, and east of the main academic complex.

The campus community will be notified as far in advance of the burns as possible. However, because weather and wind conditions play such a critical role in the actual day and time the burns will take place, advance notice may be limited.

According to Biological Sciences Professor David Rogers, tall grass prairie once covered millions of acres across the Midwest, over 99 percent of which has been lost to agriculture and urban development. UW-Parkside was an early innovator in the art and science of ecological restoration and contains some of the earliest prairie restoration efforts in the country.

At its inception, more than 80 acres of native prairie were planted on campus to provide an outdoor laboratory space for the natural sciences and to demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship. The annual ritual of prairie burning illustrates this stewardship because only the dedicated efforts of the Facilities Management burn crew over the last 40 years has kept these prairies alive.

Prairies need fire to function properly because frequent fires kill invading shrub and tree species and help eliminate nonnative herbaceous species like teasel and brome grass that grow earlier in the spring than do native species. Fires also return vital nutrients to the soil, allowing prairie species to grow taller and to produce the flowers and seeds necessary to keep their populations flourishing. Similarly, fires remove insulating thatch and blacken the ground, which allows the soil to warm up earlier in the year and stimulates the growth of warm-season native grasses. The increased flowering and seed production help maintain populations of butterflies, birds and other animals that rely on prairie plants for food and shelter.

Despite the best efforts of Facilities Management, much of UW Parkside's original restored prairies have been lost to development and the remaining remnants have lost much of their original diversity, particularly of flowering plants. In response to these changes, UW Parkside has renewed its commitment to this grand tradition. Recently, a native plant nursery has been established on campus that is generating bare root and seed stock that will be planted back into the prairie, hopefully returning these prairies to their former glory and creating an outdoor lab space that will continue to serve future generations of UW Parkside students.


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