Prescribed Fire and Soccer Co-Exist
Soccer practice went uninterrupted at St. Olaf University in Minnesota during a recent prescribed fire on the surrounding Minnesota Valley Refuge (MVR). On October 13, fire officials successfully treated 110 acres of Tallgrass Prairie adjacent to the university community located in Northfield, Minnesota.
MVR Fire Management Officer Lee Nelson planned the prescribed burn project for more than two years, waiting for the right winds to prevent smoke from impacting Northfield hospital located across the road from the refuge. “Normally, favorable winds (for this prescribed burn) mean it’s raining,” Nelson said.
When ideal conditions for the burn began developing mid-October, Nelson contacted St. Olaf University - including the biology department staff - to seek permission to allow drift smoke on campus. The university obliged, but “excellent dispersion of atmospheric winds” on the day of the prescribed burn lifted smoke away from the scene - and campus. “The St. Olaf Women’s Soccer Team continued practicing just 300 yards from where our burn was happening,” Nelson said.
Twelve personnel from the FWS and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed the burn within four hours of igniting the grassy fuels.
MVR is home to more than 200 species of birds, including many types of waterfowl dependent upon the ecosystem for breeding and nesting. “This type of ecosystem needs to burn every 3-5 years,” explained Nelson. Tallgrass Prairie depends upon fire for its health and survival. Cottonwood is a woody, invasive species that negatively impacts prairie ecosystem habitat on the refuge. “We met our objectives with this burn. In time there will be an abundance flowering plants appearing where the burn occurred.”
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge encompasses the urban and suburban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, spanning 99 miles of the Minnesota River.
A prescribed fire burns adjacent to St. Olaf University in Northfield, Minnesota. Photo by: Eugene Bakko, retired professor from St. Olaf University.
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