Controlled burning is actually very beneficial for the wildlife so I spoke to the Site Superintendent from IDNR to understand why.
“You have to get in there and do something about the woody plants such as the dogwoods, cottonwoods, and whatever might be in the area. Otherwise in time if you let it go, twenty to thirty years from now it will become a forest instead of a prairie. So the fire will knock it back and keep it in a prairie situation,” said Tom Wilson, Forest Protection Program Manager.
New employees with the IDNR had to go through field training under a supervisor, or burn boss, to get certified in this process while helping the habitat along the way.
We had new employees come in and need experience for training so we do a little classroom stuff ,some online training, and then we actually get to come out and do a full fledged burn. They get to use the tools and learn the whole fire experience,” said Wilson.
Scott Schleuter, Site Superintendent with the DNR, has to carefully consider when to do the burns to keep everyone safe. Even light winds can make fire travel rapidly.
“We have picked today to burn because things have dried up a little bit. We have light to moderate winds out of the south southeast. We started the fire on the down wind side so we can put what we call black in the area. When we light a head fire it can naturally come towards the black or burnt fuel and not overrun yourself,” said Schleuter.
Since the ground was still saturated the burn did not go exactly as they planned.
“Everyone is a little different. Some you get scorched earth where 100% is burned. Today is part of the learning and they realize that it doesn’t always burn the way you want it to. It’s wet out there and the ground is still cold so it turned out to be more mosaic and we had some hot spots and some that didn’t burn at all,” said Wilson.
Burning large amounts of acreage may look devastating but it’s benefits range from maintaining native species to helping waterfowl during migration.
“Keeping the invasive species out of here is very important because it is a wetland and prairie land which means there aren’t any trees or brush it’s just grass. Naturally moist soil plants grow naturally when you drain water out of our wetlands. They grow back in late fall so the ducks that are migrating north can eat when they are on their way back down south,” said Paul Vogt Site Technician.
“It’s black and ugly and burnt up and doesn’t look so good for a few weeks. However, it’s actually a beautiful tool to use for wildlife management. It comes right back with the spring rains and warm temperatures. It comes back vigorous as ever and better than before.” said Schleuter.