So there I was, driving home after meeting with a gardening client, minding my own business and all traffic laws, when suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a welcome and familiar red sign: "Prescribed burn in process." Ooh! These controlled ecological burns are performed by Ann Arbor's Natural Area Preservation (NAP) — the same nice folks for whom I volunteer on the frog and toad survey — each spring and fall in Ann Arbor parks and natural areas. I had my camera in the car, so I headed into Buhr Park where the burn was taking place.
More precisely, the burn took place in the Buhr Park Children's Wet Meadow, right across from the playground and under a mile from where I live. (Um, wet in the sense that it's a rain garden, but in fact actually dry so it would have fuel to burn.) You can see it's a pretty contained area, being one large garden bed of native plants. Apparently, participants scattered native plant seeds on the site after the burn, but I left before that, although I did see Jeannine Palms, meadow steward, with seeds in hand.
Michigan ecosystems (oak-hickory forests, prairies, grasslands) have depended on fires for hundreds of years. Fires were started naturally by lightning strikes and as controlled burns by native Americans. After settlers arrived, burning stopped. Over time, though, the lack of fire disrupted the natural balance, allowing non-native plants (which would have been kept in check with fire) to outcompete the native plant species (which would have continued to thrive with fire).
These controlled burns reintroduce fire to enrich the soil and to remove dead thatch and non-native invasive plants. They allow native plants, which are adapted to fire but have been suppressed by invasives, to again thrive. Native plants also attract native wildlife. The flames never got higher than this photo shows, and as you can see from the first photo, the burn crew has plenty of water on hand (or, on back!). The crew is well-trained, experienced, and always in control. We are not talking forest fires!
For more information on the benefits of prescribed burns, especially as relating to native plants, read my friend Aunita Erskine's editorial in the Ann Arbor News.
For more burn photos and videos, check out this entry on NAP's blog.
About the post title, I'm thinking of the Tom Jones version of Ring of Fire, not because the original Johnny Cash version isn't good, or even better, but because I might just have the tiniest bit of a jones for Mr Jones. Hypothetically. Ahem.