Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Jeff Finn and Ben Walker monitor the advancing fire from the safety of the Marsh Master. Photo by Ron Huffman/USFWS.

Jeff Finn and Ben Walker monitor the advancing fire from the safety of the Marsh Master. Photo by Ron Huffman/USFWS.

Partners Come Together to Protect Homes and
Help a Federally Threatened Orchid

There’s not much we can do these days without the help of our partners and support from the public. This became very evident when Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge proposed a prescribed burn at the Young property, a satellite property of the refuge.

Ottawa acquired the 115-acre Young property in 2000. Nearly half of it was encumbered with invasive phragmites. Unfortunately, there are 70 homes within 200 yards of the property and it is the very definition of the Wildland Urban Interface. This is not a good situation when you consider that we depend on using prescribed fire as a very important tool in controlling phragmites and other invasives. This also presents a major wildfire danger with such volatile fuels being so close to so many homes.

In some areas, the phragmites is only 20-30 feet from the homes and well within the flame lengths that the plants normally produce during a wildfire. If an uncontrolled wildfire were to happen, those homes would certainly be lost. When you consider that the homes are so close together on the east side of the unit, you can see how a small wildfire could quickly spread house to house. Burning that type of fuel, that close to so many homes requires a burn crew with tremendous knowledge and experience.

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge staff have always supported prescribed fire needs at Ottawa Refuge and we called them in as part of the team to get this job done safely. We had no doubt that they could pull off such a burn, in a safe and professional manner. For additional help, we reached out to The Nature Conservancy, Ohio Division of Forestry, volunteers, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge staff, and our own crewmembers.

The housing association to the east, which contains 56 modular homes, was quite relieved that the burn would reduce the potential for wildfire while improving the viewscape and habitat for wildlife. They were very helpful and supportive, allowing us to use their roads, set up pumps, and help in any way they could. The rest of the neighborhood was equally as supportive.

The unsung beneficiary of this well-orchestrated burn is the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid. The property is home to a large population of the orchids. On the west end of the property, there is a lot of woody vegetation encroachment which is taking over prime orchid habitat. Due to the phragmites monoculture, the eastern half of the property has limited orchids. The refuge used Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding to aerially treat the phragmites with herbicide in late 2014. A good prescribed fire helps remedy both the woody encroachment and remove the dead phragmites material, making way for native plants to establish themselves.

The orchid population has shown great response to similar burns and treatments on other refuge properties. Fire is an important tool in battling invasive phragmites. It removes the massive amounts of duff and litter that phragmites creates. The removal of this litter is crucial to reestablishment of native plant communities. In the future, the use of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds to implement prescribed fires could be a possibility and a much needed tool in our continuing fight.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge could never have accomplished such a task without help and support from our neighbors, partners, and other Midwest Region staff. We owe a big thank you to everyone that made this possible, especially the staff at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

By Jeff Finn
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Ignition of the prescribed burn. Volunteer Mike Broecker and TNC employee Ryan Gauger prep the line ahead of the ignitors. Big Oaks and Ottawa staff begin lighting along a wet line. Photograph by Brian Winters

Ignition of the prescribed burn. Volunteer Mike Broecker and TNC employee Ryan Gauger prep the line ahead of the ignitors. Big Oaks and Ottawa staff begin lighting along a wet line. Photo by Brian Winters/USFWS.

Midway through the burn, the flaming front advances through the unit. Flame lengths are reaching 30-50 feet. Homeowners watching the prescribed burn fully realize the danger these fuels presented so close to their homes. Photo by Brian Winters/USFWS.

Midway through the burn, the flaming front advances through the unit. Flame lengths are reaching 30-50 feet. Homeowners watching the prescribed burn fully realize the danger these fuels presented so close to their homes. Photo by Brian Winters/USFWS.

Post burn walk observation shows how close the fuels are to homes. The phragmites along the housing association was mowed down in early winter of 2014 to reduce flame lengths and fire behavior near the homes. You can see the difference in vegetation height between the mowed phragmites and the standing ones. Photo by Jeff Finn/USFWS.

Post burn walk observation shows how close the fuels are to homes. The phragmites along the housing association was mowed down in early winter of 2014 to reduce flame lengths and fire behavior near the homes. You can see the difference in vegetation height between the mowed phragmites and the standing ones. Photo by Jeff Finn/USFWS.

 

Last updated: June 4, 2015