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Prairie Burns

WHY WE BURN

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 established or struggling natural areas. It happens less frequently when a prairie or wetland area is well established and not overrun by invasive species.

The Park District burns prairie/wetland and woodland habitats. Burning is the most valuable and cost-effective control of invasive species. In the prairie/wetland habitats, burning helps 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.

HOW WE BURN

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.

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 for assistance. A Park District staff person will transport you to Prairie Point Center, where you can wait until the smoke has cleared.

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, email the Natural Resource Manager, Dave Margolis or call 630.554.4439.