Sunday, September 4, 2016

Burning Prairie

Much of Carleton College’s lower arboretum is converted to prairie. This process involves periodic burning. Native prairie plants tend to be fire resistant, while invasives do not survive. In the early Spring, the blackened earth warms the ground, promoting early growth. Carleton burns the prairies on more or less of a four-year rotation (Braker, pers. com). Carleton is doing a good job—the prairie appears to be healthy and a number of prairie birds have returned to the area. There can be too much of a good thing. Pyle (2010) warns of “overzealous” prairie burning. He writes that burning Leadplant is lethal to three species of butterfly and at least one moth. If prairies are burned too often or too extensively, the native Lepidoptera do not survive.

On 22 April  2016, Erika and I came upon a fire crew maintaining the prairie. A Red-tailed Hawk oversaw the project. The raptor flew back and forth over the burned grassland. Presumably the hawk searched for small mammals displaced by the flames.

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