Author Topic: Fire plays important role in the health of the prairie  (Read 1341 times)

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Offline CatManDo

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Fire plays important role in the health of the prairie
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2012, 03:22:38 AM »
Fire plays important role in the health of the prairie

In less than two hours, fire reduced the
native grasses and plants on Woods Prairie
to a blanket of ashes.

People unfamiliar with the needs of prairies
might consider that a disaster.

In fact, a fire is just what the prairie, near
Chesapeake in Lawrence County, needed,
Andy Thomas said.

The tiny remnant of one of the prairies that
once bordered Ozarks forests would
disappear without fire, said Thomas, the
president of the Ozarks Regional Land
Trust and a researcher at the University of
Missouri Southwest Center.

"They require fire," Thomas said of
prairies. "In nature, they are burned.
Otherwise, they grow into brush. If we
didn't burn this, it would grow into brush
and trees."

Burning isn't the only tool used to keep the
prairie healthy, Thomas said.

Some years, the prairie, which has never
been plowed, is hayed or brush hogged.

This year, though, fire was used to prepare
the prairie for a spring and summer crop
of native grasses and flowering plants.
 The burn was supervised by Missouri
Prairie Foundation operations manager
Richard Datema.

One of Datema's jobs is to go around the
state caring for foundation areas and to
help other groups like the land trust,
Datema said.

As he spoke, workers wielding drip torches
put burning kerosene on the ground to
start firelines. The burn was taking place at
the upper edge of allowable wind
conditions, Datema said as flames rose
and white smoke billowed from burning

Preparations taken before the burn, such
as cutting vegetation around the prairie's
borders, worked to limit the fire's spread.

"The key is to secure your downwind line,
and once it's done, it's not too hard," he

Datema used fire against itself.

 One fire set on the prairie's downwind side
burned into another fire set on the upwind
side. When the fires met, they didn't have
fuel to move farther and extinguished each

Watching a prairie being burned off always
is exciting, said Linda Ellis, a master
naturalist from Galena who helped out to
build up her volunteer time.

"I've been volunteering here 15 years
during burns and seed collection and plant
identification," Ellis said. "I'm a plant junkie.
I also love tall grass prairies and the
diversity of plant and animal life on them."

Ellis ventured into an unburned section to
check out dried seed pods.

Even in midwinter, Ellis found rattlesnake
master, black-eyed susan, spurge and
other plants. The prairie is home to more
than 250 plant species.

Mount Vernon resident John Typaldos
volunteered for his first controlled burn.

Typaldos said he'd been on seed-
collecting missions but wanted to see what
a burn involved.

Typaldos' job involved using a backpack
sprayer to put water on the edges of the
fire to keep it from spreading.

"The longer you wear it, the lighter it gets,"
Typaldos joked.

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