Controlled burns are an incredibly effective and efficient tool for managing healthy native ecosystems in Indiana.
Prescribed fire, also known as controlled burn, controls invasive plant infestation, maintains open understory of forest, returns nutrients directly and quickly to the soil and preserves native plant population health. The control burn season is late fall and early spring.
Controlled burns require a carefully developed burn plan. NICHES Land Trust Stewardship Manager and Burn Boss in training, Brad Weigel, develops a comprehensive burn plan for each burn. The burn plan includes clear identification of the ‘burn unit’ (area included in the controlled burn) and the burn breaks. A burn break is a predetermined ‘line’ that edges the burn unit. The burn break is an area free from ‘fuel’ that will not ‘carry fire’. Fuel refers to material conducive to burn; in a woodland the fuel is predominately leaf litter, whereas, in a prairie or savanna the fuel is the dried grass and forb (herbaceous flowering plant; wildflowers) material remaining from the previous growing season. (See picture above of a prairie fire.) Fuel carries fire through the burn unit.
Burn breaks are waterways, such as rivers or stream, roadways or wide swaths cleared of fuel manually, often by leave blowing, raking, or mowing (before the growing season ends). Stewardship Managers, Brad Weigel and Bob Easter, prepare burn breaks in advance of the burn and check the condition of the breaks on the day of the burn preceding ignition.
Burn plans also include details about the goal of the burn, the specific weather conditions necessary. Each site has particular weather considerations based on location, topography,habitat make-up, and proximity to houses, roads or cities.
The burn boss watches weather conditions, paying particular attention to relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and temperature. When the conditions are right, the burn is a go. Often only a matter of days is the lead time for notifying property neighbors of and gathering volunteers for the days burn, and providing pre-ignition instruction to the gathered burn crew.
On the day of the burn, the burn boss contact local fire authorities, checks the burn unit and burn breaks, prepares supplies and coordinates volunteers. The burn boss assigns tasks, divides burn crew into groups one person designated as the line leader. All crew members wear special fire-retardant clothing, Nomex, and helmets. Tools used for the burn include water backpacks, special rakes, flappers (poles with rubber flaps to smother fire) and drip torches to drop fire.
A burn is generally completed in an afternoon. NICHES ignites burns in early afternoon after the day has had a chance to warm and the litter to dry from the overnight moisture.
NICHES relies on a crew of volunteers for our burns. We provide training to volunteers who crew the burns. Participating in a controlled burn is a rewarding experience; the burn crew sees first hand the benefits of controlled burns on the ecosystem.
Controlled burns return nutrients to the soil, manage invasive species not tolerant to fire, and support native species that adapted to fire.
Interested in becoming a burn volunteer for NICHES Land Trust? Contact Gus at firstname.lastname@example.org