Prescribed Burn


The call came Friday afternoon – the burn crew was going to be here at 6:00 to do the burn we had planned at the north side of our property as part of a land conservation grant that we’ve secured with the Stewardship Network and other partners.  Then it was moved to  7:00 – the crew was doing a burn at Haehnle just before coming to Dahlem.  About 7:30 we were getting ready to head out to the 10 acre burn site.DSC_0111DSC_0113 Dave Borneman runs the burn crew.  This year’s crew included three new team members, and all were quite efficient and skilled at their work.

DSC_0117The burn site includes edges (along a field and trails), a somewhat open grassy area, and woods.  The wind was coming out of the west, so they started the burn in the woods on the east side of the plot, and drove the flames into the wind.  The raked trail served as a fire break.

DSC_0118DSC_0120DSC_0121There wasn’t a lot of fuel in the woods, aside from last fall’s leaves and some old branches, so this area took its time to burn.  They laid down several lines of fire to get it burning faster.

DSC_0123Areas around logs, benches and signs were watered down to prevent them from catching fire.

DSC_0127DSC_0145It was a beautiful warm evening, and those flames were good and hot!

DSC_0150We had a fair-sized crowd of spectators:  Dahlem staff, volunteers, members and friends.  There was also a reporter and photographer from the local paper in attendance.

DSC_0155Part of the burn crew went up to the northern edge of the area and started sending the flames through the edge and into the open area.

DSC_0163A lot of the grass here did not burn.  And the brush piles resisted the flames as well.  This area had been prepped by our Cut and Dab Society (volunteers who help us with land conservation/stewardship projects), mostly this spring.  The deep snows, and later the ice, from the winter prevented a lot of work that would’ve been done over the winter months.  As a result, much of the brush in the brush piles was still on the green side.


One brush pile, however, had some dead material in it, and it burned quite nicely once it got going.

DSC_0173DSC_0187Still Life with Vine.  We discovered that the cut vines (mostly Asian bittersweet) burned really well.

DSC_0198Here we are looking back across the open area toward the woods.  A little further back from this shot is the glacial pond, which was alive with singing frogs.  They were not at all deterred by the smoke that was blowing their way.

DSC_0201Dusk was well underway by now, so Dave drove back and forth with a drip torch, making sure there were plenty of lines of fire going to speed the burn along.

DSC_0224At last we were on the western side of the plot.  The trail that leads to the Ecology Farm formed the boundary along this side.

DSC_0227As mentioned before, the vines burned very nicely.

DSC_0231DSC_0233The lines of fire were beautiful as evening fell.

DSC_0252 DSC_0250 In truth, the world did not turn blue; it is the result of me shooting at a very low shutter speed.  This shot, which was taken about 9:00 PM, shows an interesting web of unburned grasses through the open area.  These are likely deer trails.DSC_0267So…why was this burn prescribed?  Once upon a time, burns were a natural part of the landscape, often started by lightning strikes, and later encouraged by the Native Americans.  Burns are what keep grasslands and savannas as grasslands and savannas.  Without some sort of disturbance (like fire), ecosystems age and change over time, eventually reaching whatever the climax community of that area is.  By reintroducing fire to the landscape, we can keep our grasslands and savannas from becoming woodlands.  This favors plant, bird, insect, mammal, and herp (reptile/amphibian) species that thrive in open situations (or along edges).  Without disturbances, like fire, diversity on the landscape is lost.

At Dahlem, we are working on a long-range plan to re-establish habitats that favor grassland birds, whose populations are in serious decline (due to a number of reason).  By recreating open habitats, such as grasslands and savannas, we are providing nesting habitat for these birds (and other associated species).

We are quite keen to see what plant species pop up in the burn area.  While we will be planting some grass and forb seeds, it is very possible that some natives were already in the seed bank and will have been released by the fire.

Be sure to walk out to the burn over the next few weeks to see what is happening!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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