Prairie and Woodland Burns
Where There's Smoke...There's Fire
Before farms and housing developments replaced most of Illinois' native prairies and wetlands, wildfires were a natural part of our area's ecosystem. Over hundreds of years, native plants and animals adapted to a habitat periodically rejuvenated by fire. Today, by contrast, less than 1% of land in Illinois is classified as prairie, and wildfires are suppressed to protect private property. Our homes and businesses are safe, but we've removed an essential element of natural prairie/wetland environment. In the process, we've tipped the balance against native plant and animal species that depend on fire to survive.
To restore the balance, open land managers, including the Oswegoland Park District, practice controlled or prescribed burning. This procedure benefits native plants and animals by removing exotic plants and grasses, by restoring wildlife habitat, and by returning essential nutrients to the soil.
Burning can occur annually or biennially in newly establised or struggling natural areas. It happens less frequently when a prairie or wetland area is well established and not being overrun by invasive species.
To ensure residents' safety and protect property, all Oswegoland Park District burns are supervised by trained employees. Burns are scheduled far in advance, but cannot happen if wind direction, wind speed, and relative humidity aren't just right. As an added safety measure, the Oswego Fire Protection District is notified, and on call. A water tank is on site during all burns.
DID YOU KNOW?
Prairie burns don't harm
wildlife! Frogs, turtles
and insects have a natural
instinct to hide underground.
Although the Park District tries to minimize smoke by burning early in the growing season (before grasses turn green), any burning can be a concern for residents with breathing problems. As a precaution, the Park District notifies homeowners in the immediate burn area before burning occurs. No matter where you live, if the smoke from a prescribed burn bothers you, you can call the Park District at 630.554.1010 for assistance. A Park District staff person will transport you to Prairie Point Center, where you can wait until the smoke has cleared.
There are two types of habitats that the Park District burns: Prairie/Wetland and Woodland. Burning is the most valuable and cost-effective control of non-native species. In the prairie/wetland habitats, burning helps to stop the growth of invasive plants such as Canada Thistle and Multi-Flora Rose. Prairie plants have roots that can reach up to 12 feet deep while invasive species have roots that stay near the surface. Therefore, the burn will harm the roots only of those non-native species and the prairie plants can thrive!
In wooded areas, trees create a canopy that filters out sunlight and allows invasive species to thrive. These trees create too much shade for native species to grow, and creates a thick, dense woodland with no wildflowers. Larger trees are not fazed by the understory burn because evolution has created them to tolerate moderate burning.
If you have any questions about prairie and woodland burns, or you would like to volunteer to help with this or other conservation or restoration projects, contact the Oswegoland Park District's Natural Resource Manager, Dave Margolis at 630.554.1010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.