Fire has an important role to play in many of Minnesota's ecosystems. From prairie to fire-dependent forests. It is not a new management tool. Historically, Native Americans set fires to maintain these ecosystems, as well as to aid in hunting. Fires would also ignite by lightning strikes, and later, by train sparks along railroads.
When Europeans settled in Minnesota, they suppressed fire over large parts of the state. Most suppression was a result of converting lands to agricultural crops, grazed pasture, and roads. The bare dirt of spring crop fields and grazed pasture do not burn. Roads fragment the landscape, serving as firebreaks that greatly reduce the potential size of fires. These factors negatively impacted fire-dependent ecosystems. Today natural resource professionals use fire in a safe and controlled way to enhance these lands, and help prevent wildfires.
Invasive species management is one of the important uses of prescribed fire. Invasive species frequently out-compete native plants, and can take over ecosystems. With fire, as well as other land management strategies, invasive species can be set back, allowing native species to re-establish. Using multiple strategies, degraded ecosystems can slowly be restored. The goal is to control invasive species, and maintain the native plant communities with periodic prescribed fire.
Benefits of a safe and successful prescribed burn:
- Combats trees and shrubs that shade out prairie and other shade-intolerant plants
- Removes old vegetation to make room for new growth
- Shifts soil nutrients to a state more favorable to prairie species
- Helps reduce the spread of invasive and pest species
- Consumes excess fuel, such as dead and downed trees, reducing dangerous and intense wildfires
- Burning in patches creates a mosaic of habitats for a variety of plants and animals.
Lost Valley Prairie SNA 2019 Prescribed Burn
A prescribed burn, conducted at Lost Valley Prairie in May 2019, helped reduce the built up dead vegetation, stimulate prairie plant growth and seed production, and eliminate woody species like buckthorn.
St. Croix Savanna SNA 2019 Prescribed Burn
A prescribed burn, conducted at St. Croix Savanna in April 2019, helped maintain the site's fire dependent oak savanna and prairie by reducing trees, shrubs and invasive species. This burn targeted buckthorn seedlings and reduced built up of dead vegetation.