Summer Fire Follow-Up

My post on our August 12 prescribed fires generated a lot of interest and comments. I’m glad the post was interesting to people and I was once again gratified by the tone and content of the comments. This blog has over 5,000 subscribers and many others that read it, and yet I’ve had incredibly few problematic comments and commenters over the years. Thank you for that.

Since there was so much interest, I thought I’d provide a quick update on the fire today. The photos here were all taken earlier today. We’ve put up some small exclosures that will help us gauge the impact of the immediate grazing on the vegetation – both this fall and into next year – and will be doing some quantitative evaluation of woody plant impacts. Those results will have to wait, but these photos can at least give you a brief look at how the burned areas look 11 days after the fire. All these photos are from the second unit we burned last week, a former cropland planted to high-diversity prairie in 1994.

Grasses are quickly popping back out of the ground after the fire. That includes both native warm-season grasses like Indiangrass and non-native grasses like smooth brome. In this photo, you can see that ants have also been active, but I’m not sure whether that’s related to the fire.
Cattle have had access to the burned unit since the day of the fire. Their tracks are all over the burned area but I’m not sure they’ve done much feeding that. That should change as the grasses get just a little taller than the 2-4 inch heights most are at now.
These dogwoods were top-killed by the fire, but I anticipate seeing resprouting from the base of most of them either later this year or in the spring.
There were around a dozen small eastern red cedar trees in the unit, including this one, which was about 3 1/2 feet tall. They all look nice and dead.
Grass growth is looking lush and green, though still pretty thin this early on. We’ve had some good rains, both before and after the fire, so that’s helped spur growth.
Maximilian sunflowers are sending up new shoots from basal buds, just like the grasses are.
The combination of bare ground and lots of light has triggered germination of some species, including thousands of these tiny Illinois bundleflower seedlings.

I’ll try to continue updates as the year goes along. Thanks again for the productive discussion that has arisen around last week’s post. We’re all experimenting and learning, so the conversation is productive for me and I hope it’s helpful to you as well. I really do appreciate this community.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

5 thoughts on “Summer Fire Follow-Up

  1. Thank you for the great posts. I really look forward to them. Although my first degree was range management, which was used occasionally in my career, your posts bring me back in a good way to that education so let long ago.

  2. If you want an ecosystem in balance – i.e. low maintenance – you need the whole historic set of grazers; including prairie dogs and pocket gophers etc, as well as the predators keeping them in balance of course. Fire and cattle isn’t enough; just like bison only was one part of the ecosystem. People always want quick and cheap solutions with only advantages, but that’s not the way a sustainable world works. Never did and never will.

  3. Hello,
    The ecological concept happening is the secondary succession.
    The species that will establish and their dominance will depend on the seeds in soil stock. However, depending on the characteristics of the fire ( intensity, duration…), some invaders may establish also.
    Monitoring of the vegetation through time will allow to understand the real impact of this disturbance (fire).

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