Prescribed burning is used to remove old vegetative growth, release nutrients back to the soil, decrease woody and other invasive and undesirable plant species, increase warm season grasses and forbs, and reduce the amount of organic matter (litter) on the soil surface.
With less vegetation in the wetland itself, it requires less runoff or pumping to produce open water for migratory birds. As the water recedes on large open areas, dense stands of annual smartweed, bur reed, barnyard grass, and other desirable species grow back. Burning is also the best method for removing invading woody plants seedlings, such as cottonwoods and willows.
Burning alone, has little long term effect on monotypic stands of reed canarygrass, river bulrush, or cattails. (Burning alone, actually increases the growth of canarygrass.) However, when burning is used in conjunction with other management practices, wetlands become more open with a greater diversity of plant species. The preferred management combination is a burn followed by grazing and then pumping.
Most burns occur during the months of March and April. Upland burns at this time set back invading cool season plants, such as smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass. Some summer wetland disking, followed by burns in August has been done in recent years. The results have been favorable for both plant diversity and waterfowl use, but the areas returned to monotypic stands in a few years. Each year about twenty-five separate burns are done throughout the Management District.
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