Controlled burns create healthy prairies

The Natural Land Institute will use controlled burns as it begins its annual “house cleaning” at the Nygren Wetland Preserve.

Fire is a natural process that, for thousands of years, has cleared out unwanted brush and weeds and regenerated native plants to create habitat for wildlife in prairies and woodlands.

Changes to the landscape during the past 150 years, however, have altered the cycle of fires in protected natural areas. Trained ecologists set the fires, which are carefully watched and kept under control. They burn parts of prairies and woodlands every few years, usually in the spring or fall, to release nutrients from burned plants, help seeds to grow by breaking their protective coats and open the woodland floor to sunlight so that native wildflowers can flourish.

This spring, beginning March 29 and continuing through mid-April, the Natural Land Institute will burn selected portions of the 721-acre Nygren Wetland Preserve, about a mile west of Rockton. Other areas slated for controlled burns are portions of the Stone Bridge Nature Trail and Burr Oak Valley Preserve near Roscoe in Winnebago County and the Beach Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve in Ogle County. Fire is weather-dependent, so trained leaders will make daily determinations about where and when to burn based on wind, humidity and other factors required for safety.

The Natural Land Institute of Rockford is a private, not-for-profit conservation organization that, since 1958, has preserved some of the best prairies, forests and wetlands in northern Illinois. To learn more about the Natural Land Institute’s work and the use of controlled burns, call 815/964-6666.

From the April 13-19, 2005, issue

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