Smoke could be rising from Department of Natural Resources managed properties in Lafayette County this spring, if conditions are right.
Smoke means fire, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Fire consumes dead vegetation, invasive species and other harmful plants, leaving a mineral rich coating of ash on soil that is newly exposed to the sun’s energy. This will spur the growth of hardy native plants, creating wildlife habitat while making it more difficult for invasive species to gain ground.
The key is to make sure the fire stays within a predetermined area, also referred to as a burn unit. The Department of Natural Resources calls these “controlled burns” or “prescribed burns.” They occur under strict guidelines and only when weather conditions are favorable. They are a common tool used by wildlife biologists to preserve the richness and diversity of state-managed properties.
Each spring, biologists draw up a list of properties under their care that could benefit from a prescribed burn. In some cases the list may seem long and ideally all listed properties would see a burn but wind and weather dictate those properties that are burned and those that must wait, perhaps for another year.
“Each listed property has a detailed burn plan,” explained Nancy Frost, DNR wildlife biologist for Sauk County. “The level of detail in the plans gets down to which properties can be burned safely only when we have wind from specific directions. For example, we don’t often see an east wind and some years we don’t have a single suitable day to burn properties that require an east wind but we list them because if an east wind does appear, crews will work to burn as many of those properties as possible while the necessary conditions exist.”
Parcels are typically burned on a two-to-five-year rotation and vary in size from a few dozen to many hundreds of acres.
Prescribed burns also: stimulate prairie grass growth and improve habitat for upland game and waterfowl; create pockets of open water for waterfowl amidst cattails proliferating in low areas; improve cover type for upland nesting birds, such as prairie chickens and wild turkeys; spur native vegetative growth for songbirds; and safely burn off dead vegetation reducing the risk of wildfires.
Areas identified as needing prescribed burns in Lafayette County this spring include: Yellowstone State Park; Blue Land/SNA prairie; Yellowstone Lake office Prairie; Ronnerud Prairie and Earthen Dam.