Controlled Fires Mimic Natural Processes

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Minnesota’s prairies and oak savannas evolved with fire over thousands of years. Fires sometimes started by lightning, but more often were started by the Dakota and other Indigenous Peoples across the region. They burned to clear areas for agriculture, to improve forage habitat for game like bison, and to stimulate plant growth, among other reasons. With colonization, natural fires were suppressed, and the cultural use of fire by the Dakota ended as they were forced off their lands.   

Today, land managers seek to restore fire to the landscape through prescribed burns. Naturally, Minnesota landscapes would experience fires every 3 to 5 years. To mimic this cycle refuge managers carefully plan prescribed burns to accomplish land management goals, restore natural habitats and to reduce the risk of wildfires near populated areas. 

Ecosystem Restoration 
Prescribed burn on prairie land by Hanna McBrearty/USFWS.

The refuge is restoring prairie and oak savanna habitat, open landscapes made up of grasslands with few trees. These landscapes require regular disturbance to prevent them from transitioning into woods and forests. Prescribed burns help control plant competition, remove dead vegetation, and maintain habitat health. 

Reduces Wildfire Threat 

Wildfires are unplanned and can pose risks to communities. Prescribed burning reduces this risk by removing the amount of available fuel, or flammable biomass, that is present. This helps prevent severe wildfires and aids in suppression efforts. 

Improves Habitat 

Controlled burns have additional benefits for the land: 

  • Increases soil fertility 

  • Promotes plant growth 

  • Controls invasive species invasive species
    An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

    Learn more about invasive species

  • Removes pests and diseased trees 

  • Improves wildlife habitat 


Spring Burning on Minnesota Valley

Fire Management by the US Fish and Wildlife Service


Story Tags

Fire management
Prescribed burning