For two years, the Common’s Ford Prairie Organization has been working on scheduling a prescribed burn for the prairie. Due to unusually hot and dry weather conditions during the summers of 2011 and 2012, it was not possible to schedule a burn. However, the much cooler and wetter (comparatively) weather conditions of August 2013 made it the ideal time to conduct a prescribed burn.
Fire has always played an important role in the health of maintenance of prairie ecology. Prairie grasses have evolved with fire, and thus fire plays an important role in their life cycle. Fire also keeps woody species at bay. Most of the biomass of grass lies underground, so they are not killed by fire. Woody and deciduous species, such as mesquite and juniper, are more vulnerable to fire. Thus, fire suppresses woody species allowing grasses to flourish.
A summer burn was planned due to recent research that has indicated that native species benefit more compared to exotic species by being burned in summer versus winter. Native species have been shown to regenerate faster during a summer burn compared to exotic species. A summer burn allows natives to regenerate quickly, giving them the opportunity to out compete exotic species.
On Friday August 9, 2013, a group of fire fighters from various local precincts gathered to conduct the prescribed burn on the 40 acre restored prairie at Common’s Ford. The day was hot with a slight breeze, perfect weather for a controlled burn. Once the burn was started, it spread quickly and was over in just after two hours.
Just hours after the burn, native bird species were already flocking back to the prairie to look for food (which they apparently found in abundance!) One week after the burn, native grasses were already shooting up. Over the next year, volunteer biologists will continue to monitor the growth of the prairie’s growth. Future burns will continue to be scheduled as they will be necessary in order to maintain the health and diversity of the prairie.