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Midwest and Northeast Regions Study Prescribed Fire to Control Cattails


In October 2007, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Midwest and Northeast Regions conducted a prescribed fire in a 30-acre area of cattails on Knowlesville Marsh in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York. The burn was part of a study to determine the effects of prescribed fire on controlling cattail growth and whether burning cattails during the plant’s growing or dormant season makes a difference in its re-growth.

Firefighters from Iroquois, Sunkhaze Meadows, Moosehorn and Long Island National Wildlife Refuges participated in the study, which was conducted as a partnership between the Service’s two regional offices and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Controlling cattails is important to the health of the marsh ecosystem. If they are not kept in check, cattailsspread to create a stand of dense vegetation that doesn’t serve wildlife needs. In addition, prescribed burns expose the marsh mud flats, helping native vegetation seeds germinate and benefiting wetland-dependent wildlife.

Five hours after the start of the burn, the fire was fully ignited. By noon the next day it was officially declared out. Nearly all the cattail biomass and other types of vegetation were consumed by the fire, but it appeared that the cattail root systems were only partially penetrated due to moist conditions.

More samples will be collected in 2008 and compared to help refuges learn the best way to use fire to control cattails.

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