Fire

Arrowwood Prescribed Burn FWS 512X219

Controlled burns are often called prescribed burns because wildlife managers write a careful prescription of the weather conditions, equipment, and people necessary to safely conduct a burn that will have the desired ecological effect. Fire is used to help wildlife and wildlife habitat - fire stimulates prairie plant growth, increases soil nutrients, and sets back the invading trees and other species not adapted to life on the prairie. 

 

Prairie animals are also adapted to fire. Some go underground during the fire. Others simply fly or run away from the fire. Sometimes, birds lose their nests to fire, but native grassland species have an adaptation for this: they quickly respond by building a new nest and laying a new clutch of eggs. While there is some short-term harm to some nests or animals, these same species depend on fire for their survival, since many prairie plants and animals cannot survive long, once shrubs or trees take over their grassland habitat. 


Fire: A Critical Natural Process 
In prairie ecosystems of the Great Plains vegetation has evolved under periodic disturbance and defoliation from grazing animals and fire, with minor weather events. This periodic disturbance is what kept the ecosystem diverse and healthy while maintaining significant biodiversity for thousands of years. Historically, natural fire including Native American ignitions has played an important disturbance role in many ecosystems: removing fuel accumulations, decreasing the impacts of insects and diseases, stimulating regeneration, cycling critical nutrients, and providing a diversity of habitats for plant species and wildlife.  
When fire is excluded on a broad scale (such as over several decades) as it has been in many areas, the unnatural accumulation of living and dead fuel can contribute to degraded plant communities and wildlife habitats. These fuel accumulations often change fire regime characteristics, and have created a potential in many areas across the country for uncharacteristically severe wildland fires. These catastrophic wildland fires often pose risks to public and firefighter safety. In addition, they threaten property and resource values such as wildlife habitat, grazing opportunities, timber, soils, water quality, and cultural resources.
Return of fire is essential for healthy vegetation and wildlife habitat in most ecosystems including grasslands, wetlands, woodlands, and forests. When integrated back into an ecosystem, fire can help restore and maintain healthy systems and reduce the risk of wildland fires. To facilitate fire’s natural role in the environment, fire must first be integrated into land and resource management plans and activities on a broad scale. Reintroduced fire:
Can improve waterfowl habitat, wetlands, and riparian areas by reducing the density or modifying the species in the vegetation;
Can improve deer and elk habitat, especially in areas with shortages such as winter habitat and on spring and fall transitional ranges;
Can sustain biological diversity;
Can improve access in woodlands and shrublands;
Can improve soil fertility;
Can improve the quality and amount of livestock forage;
Can improve growth in immature woodlands by reducing density;
Can remove excessive build-up of fuels;
Can reduce susceptibility of plants to insects and disease caused by moisture and nutrient stress;
Can improve water yield for off-site activities and communities dependent on wildlands for their water supply.