Restoring Habitat with Fire

Urban Fire Management by Hanna McBrearty/USFWS

Prescribed fire is one of several tools Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge uses to restore prairies and oak savannas and reduce the risk of wildfires near populated areas. Photo by Hanna McBrearty, USFWS

Prescribed Fire

A prescribed burn is the controlled use of fire to restore wildlife habitat. These burns are carefully planned. Fire professionals consider wind, humidity, temperature, and vegetation conditions, as well as smoke dispersion and nearby buildings, when planning a controlled fire. Safety is always the top priority. Due to weather variables, the exact days and times may not be known until the day before or the day of each burn. Ideal conditions can usually be found within a 6-week window in March, April or May; and again in October and November.  

2021 Priority Burn Areas

Minnesota landscapes typically burned every 3-5 years, and refuge managers mimic this natural cycle by applying prescribed fire to refuge units similarly. These refuge units and Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) are prioritized for the 2021 spring burn season: 

Benefits of Fire  

Though it appears a destructive force, many plants and animals evolved with and depend on fire. Visit any recent burn area and you’ll see new sprouts within one week, and lush, new growth of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers within one month. The benefits of fire are numerous: 
  • Fire increases soil fertility: burning decaying plant matter releases nutrients like carbon, phosphorous, and sulphur needed for plant growth. 
  • Reduces wildfire risk: dead and decaying vegetation is ‘fuel’ for wildfires. Removing this layer decreases risk to communities. 
  • Promotes seed germination and plant growth: the black char and ash left after a burn absorbs sunlight, warming the ground and encouraging seed germination. 
  • Controls woody and invasive species: invasive and woody species are not adapted to fire like native plants. Fire can set back encroachment by woody and invasive and keep prairie and oak savanna ecosystems from turning into forests.  

Learn more about Fire Management in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: