Grassland Restoration

Grassland Restoration At Dahlem

Fires have always been a part of the landscape. Some ecosystems, such as the tall grass prairies of the plains states, are entirely dependent on fire for survival, and historically these fires were caused by natural events (lightning strikes) as well as human intervention (Native peoples).

When used correctly, fire can be a useful, and even necessary, tool in managing a landscape. There are ecosystems that are wholly dependent on fire for survival, such as the jack pine forests that the Kirtland warbler calls home, the redwood forests of California, or the long-leaf pine forests of the American southeast. When naturally occurring fires are prevented from burning in these fire-dependent ecosystems, fuel builds up to dangerous levels until one day a spark catches and a destructive fire rages through, destroying wilderness areas and human developments alike.

Today many a landscape manager knows the value of fire on the landscape and will schedule prescribed burns to a) reduce the build-up of fuel, b) keep invasive vegetation under control, and c) release new growth of native, fire-dependent plant species. At Dahlem we use fire restoration routinely to treat our prairie ecosystem and to clear the understory of our oak-savannah forest.

Prescribed fires serve several purposes. They help keep invasive species, like autumn olive, under control; they stimulate germination of certain native seeds; they open the landscape so sunlight can reach the ground; they help return nutrients to the soil; they remove dead vegetation and help prevent wildfires that can burn out of control when fuel builds up over many years.

After a fire burns through a habitat, many birds, like owls, woodcocks, bluebirds and robins, fly in to take advantage of newly exposed food sources, and new plants green up the scorched landscape in record time.

We encourage everyone to come on out and see how fire can be another tool in the land steward’s arsenal to keep the landscape healthy and vibrant.