were once a common influence on plant life cycles and communities.
Some ecosystems depend on fire for seed germination and
the fertile ash left behind.
is a natural part of wildlife habitat. Before humans intervened,
fires started by lightening would rage through an area,
cleansing it of encroaching vegetation, reducing the fuel
load of dead leaves and grass from years before and helping
aerate the soil by removing debris.
to fears and the need to protect property, humans have suppressed
natural wildfires. Without fire, all of the fuels (dead
trees and leaf litter) added up and have created large wildfire
situations. The large wildfires threaten wildlife and humans
much more so than smaller fires would have. So, to mimic
nature's natural fire cycles, fire can be used as a management
of Salt Plains was historically prairie. Prairie ecosystems
depend on fire as important tool to keep them as prairie.
mother nature historically started wildfires in a prairie,
the fires helped to keep invasives, such as red cedar, from
taking over the prairie. It helped to clear areas that some
birds used as leks and control other woody vegetation.
grasses thrive with fire. Unlike trees, the growing portion
of a grass is close to the ground.
refuge conducts prescribed fires on the prairie to remove
old grasses and new trees. The prairie grass remains healthy
because its growing point is undisturbed; It can easily
re-grow its stem and tillers.
your mouse over the grass below. See where the brackets
are drawn - this is where the youngest portion of the grass
is located - the growing point or meristem.
fire moves across a prairie during the appropriate season,
it burns the old tillers off, but the growing point close
to the ground is not affected.
trees are removed and the prairie remains an open grassland.
Plains has several areas of forests, woodlands and locust
groves. These trees can benefit from fire as well. Tall
cottonwoods are often the roosts of resting birds. Beneath
them, smaller trees grow from the berries eaten by the birds.
these smaller trees helps the larger trees to grow and the
habitat to remain healthy and beneficial for wildlife.
aftermath of a fire is as beneficial for wildlife as the
new plants that will grow in the ash. After a prescribed
burn, wildlife can be seen foraging among the ashes, looking
for insects and grubs that were beneath the leaf litter
that was burned.
Fire is used to encourage the growth of plants such as grasses
and forbes. The objective is to provide a patch-work of
trees, bushes and grass. The patch-work can be seen as you
look over an area under regular prescribed burning. You
will see trees, different grasses and forbes all intermingled
in the landscape. Diverse plant species support diverse
wildlife populations. These healthy habitats are home to
is often difficult to run a "prescribed fire"
on Salt Plains due to high winds. Many times, biologists
must find other methods to promote the diversity of plants
in an area. Fires on Salt Plains are most often held during
the winter months. By spring, new plants will have grown
and the land is ready to support wildlife migrating north.
After a large wildfire, it takes many years to restore the
habitat. If a wildfire occurs in an area that is under a prescribed
burning schedule, the damage to the habitat is less and the
fire is easier to contain.
Restoring the land to the natural ecosystems
is important to native wildlife. When we suppressed fire
for so long, we changed the ecosystems and some species
populations were decreased. By repairing the grasslands
at Salt Plains, we expect to see native species recover
healthy populations in the refuge area.
August 6, 2007
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