The 2019 spring fire season has been off to a slow start. Some years, the stars just don’t align… by stars I mean the proper elements of humidity, sun, wind, and available staff and volunteers.
(To see previous posts on fire, click in the search field on the right-hand side of the page and type “fire”).
However, we did get two burn days last week, and we covered Moontree, a cattail marsh, and a fen that had been used as a pasture.
I like to say that prescribed fire is 95% boredom and preparation followed by and 5% excitement (and it’s only exciting when I know the hard prep work has paid off as planned). Some new volunteers anxious to see a spectacle are a little underwhelmed, once they realize what it actually entails. The photos I’m posting don’t quite capture it either… the planning, phone calls, checking weather, fixing gear, raking fire lanes, etc. After reading this ecologist’s musings on portraying prescribed fire to the public, I’m trying to be careful to not create misunderstanding.
We had a neighbor come help us burn. We’ve been talking about working together on habitat projects across our property boundaries. This is something we are really excited about as we look at the long-term prospects of building a stewardship culture in the area. Getting together for meals, for burns, and just to talk about the latest phenological happenings is important to coalition building. Thanks Ryan!
And, of course, Sr. Mary was out working too!
We like diversity of habitats, diversity of species, and diversity of disturbance patterns. With that in mind, we only burn a portion of each habitat each season, leaving an unburned section adjacent. Fire does have the potential to kill overwintering insect eggs, and the odd rodent or rabbit. Keeping our management activities diverse helps ensure that populations are sustained from year to year.
You can see in the photo below that we have a burned section next to an unburned one:
Not the best photo, but I heard some Sandhill Cranes flying over so I crouched low and got a photo of both fire and cranes with my phone:
Next over to the cattails. I’m hoping to get the drone up soon to get some aerial photos to see exactly what sections caught fire. Cattails are trickier to light than one might think… the clumps of course leaves can be far enough apart to prevent fire from spreading. Fortunately, the wind was just right to achieve our objectives here. We had just come off some very cold weather, so I was able to stand on solid ice (over only 12-18″ of water) to get this photo:
Here’s a shot of our great team:
The fen was a unit that I had been waiting to do. But we needed to learn how to work together and communicate as a burn team first. Then came the grant for prescribed fire equipment. A couple years of experience, then we were ready!
The picture below shows a little bit of the complex hydrology that makes this place special. It does hold some rainwater, but a lot of this is bubbling up from underground. These areas are a priority for conservation of unique plants, as well as maintaining a uncontaminated drinking water supply.
Here’s a video showing the breadth of this burn unit. This was after most of the more careful and tedious work was done around the roadsides, which we do slowly to minimize the smoke that goes over the road.
Some things are unveiled with a fire. You can see here the hummocks from the Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta). These micromounds 12-18″ in height are part of the structural diversity we like to see in the landscape. At the scale of an insect or a small mammal, it’s significant! You can read more about this sedge here.
Here’s one final image I stumbled upon one morning about a week after the Moontree fire. It’s the base of a perennial grass. I walked by in the exact moment that the sun was rising and burning off the hoarfront from this and other features on the landscape
It seemed to be an apt image of springtime in the Midwest. Here, and not here. Glorious rays of warm sun followed by another snow shower.
The word that came to mind was liminal.
Dark-Hard-Tense-Tight-Cold // \\ Warm-Loose-Fluid-Soft-Light
We are there in the middle.