Burning Remnant Native Prairie
Windom Wetland Management District - 2005
Prior to European settlement, more than 18 million acres of prairie covered Minnesota. Today, less than one percent of the state's native prairie remains, and 75 percent of these remaining grasslands are privately owned.
Prairie ecosystems evolved with periodic fire, making prairie vegetation and obligate wildlife species dependent upon the regenerating effects of fire. These days, because of routine fire suppression, it is necessary to mimic the natural ecological process of fire through prescribed burning. The practice of using prescribed fire, however, is often difficult for a private landowner to undertake without training, experience and specialized equipment, but the near elimination of native grasslands as well as the growing need for fire management has inspired efforts to restore these areas. A prescribed burn partnership between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Service is the avenue for such restoration.
A total of $10,000 in challenge cost-share grants was awarded to Minnesota DNR with matching funds, and/or in-kind services provided by the state and private landowners. The prescribed fire projects are scheduled for completion in 2005. The state wrote a total of nine burn plans and a competitively bid contract was awarded to a professional prescribed fire vendor for the completion of eight burns. The burn units were on privately owned remnant native prairie sites totaling 313 acres located throughout southwest Minnesota.
The project areas burned through the challenge cost share grant potentially harbor some of the highest concentrations of many rare plant and animal species such as prairie bush clover, Dakota skippers, and western prairie fringed orchids. A majority of these burn sites also are protected by private land programs such as the state's Prairie Bank Easement Program.
"The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service matching funds has allowed us to actually implement our plans and make them a reality," said Jason Garms Minnesota DNR prairie specialist. "Landowners receiving services from this collaboration are now able to apply prescribed fire as an ecological management tool on their unique lands. Many of these sites had not seen a fire since the pre-settlement era."
The 2005 project completes the fourth consecutive year of a prescribed fire partnership between the Service and Minnesota DNR. Prescribed fires now have burned on 1,013 native prairie acres in 26 project areas throughout the state.
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