These days, Smokey the Bear is just as likely to be lighting fires as fighting them. It took some time, but we now realize that fire is actually a friend to our natural habitats and not just the “Destroyer of Worlds”. In fact, just yesterday a fire crew lit a controlled burn right on top of Devil’s Lake State Park’s east bluff!
If you hike on the east bluff of Devil’s Lake State Park this weekend, you may come across a large area that looks like it had just suffered through a forest fire. Upon closer examination however, you’ll notice that the trees didn’t actually burn. On the ground you’ll see that old logs may have been slightly blackened, but they’re still there as well. Even some green plants will be popping up through the ash! This is because the fire was set intentionally and wasn’t meant to wipe out the forest.
The goal of a controlled fire, or “prescribed burn”, is to clear out invasive plants that choke out the natives, recycle nutrients into the soil, help with seed germination and generally keep the habitats healthy. Controlled burns even help prevent forest fires by removing dry tinder from the forest floor that could light easily at the touch of a spark. With that in mind, everything about the burn, even the approximate temperature is planned out to keep the trees alive, protect the native plants and most importantly not to get out of control! If you go back up on top of the east bluff in just a couple of weeks, you will see the whole area will have turned a neon green as healthy new growth takes off in the burn area.
What I always find truly amazing about controlled burns is how the crew keeps the fire temperatures under so much control that even old, dry brush doesn’t burn. Pretty amazing!
If you get a chance to get up onto the east bluff in the next few days, take a close look at the burn area. Take note of what has burned and what remained untouched. Notice how the leaves were raked away from tall dead trees to keep them from burning. You’ll see the fires burned freely on one side of some hiking trails, while nothing at all burned on the other side of the trail. I think you’ll be impressed by the precision work of the burn crew.
There was a time when we thought that all “forest fires” were a bad thing. Today, rejuvenating controlled burns are simply another rite of spring here in Wisconsin.
If you would like to learn more about the burn and the geology of the park as well, you can join an East Bluff Trail Trek this Saturday, May 10th from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Click here for more details.